HSRC launches a study into HIV prevalence in South Africa

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The Human Sciences Research Council has launched a study into HIV prevalence in South Africa. The study known as South African HIV prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey — or SABSSM — will also gather information on antiretroviral exposure, viral load suppression, and HIV drug resistance.

The study is done every five years since it was started in 20 years ago.

The latest study has been broadened to include respondents from all nine provinces. It’s expected that 93 000 people will participate, covering 25 000 randomly chosen households. There will be approximately 20 000 respondents in KwaZulu-Natal.

Trained field workers have already started in some areas. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The HSRC’s Prof Khangelani Zuma says participants will complete a questionnaire on their health behaviour. Blood samples will be collected for an HIV test. Zuma adds that research will help shape the country’s HIV policies and solutions to challenges faces by HIV positive people across the country.

“It will assist in developing new interventions, help us understand where we are with HIV epidemic and going forward, what are the drivers both socially and behavioural drivers of the epidemic and from we can actually develop new interventions. We can concretely tell how many people in the country are taking ARVs, how many are virally suppressed, such that we know if your viral load is suppressed then the risk of transmitting the virus is reduced, and therefore the number of people that get newly infected is getting down, so we can control the epidemic.”

Excellent data

US Consul General, Anne Linnee says through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief — PEPFAR — the US government has invested more than $8 billion in the research since 2004.

“Since 2004, we have spent over R100 billion, which is about $8 billion in helping to control the HIV epidemic in SA. We have excellent data on HIV from many citizens in SA. None can replace field workers on the going from going door to door across the country and speaking to SA how HIV impacts them in a daily life. Through this survey, the data will not valid how many people are living with HIV and know their status but we also know who access to revive HIV treatment, and more importantly why people who need treatment may not be able to get it, which is going to be a most difficult steps in going forward.”

The South African National Aids Council — SANAC — and the Health Department will also be part of the study. Dr. Mamosa Shabalala from the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department says the study will also help the provincial government in its HIV interventions.

“The survey is about KZN and we are here, and it augurs well with the initiative with the dept of health of solving local problems locally. We want interventions that are relevant in our context, it will contribute to early initiation on treatment and improve outcomes and the journey on damage control. I believe that the timing is perfect when HIV and COVID 19 are colliding whereby the results there-off can help us to actually compile the advocacy agenda for handling the progress or addressing the challenges that we are experiencing.”

Prof Zuma says the respondents’ information will be confidential. It will, however, help track trends in the number of new infections over time and identify areas that need special attention.