Health-e News Service - February 28, 2012
About 211 field workers will be visiting a total of 15 000
households across the country over the next six months. This is
part of the 4th South African National HIV, Behaviour and Health
Survey that is led by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).
If people wearing dark blue T-shirts with an HSRC logo come
knocking at your door, fear not. They are the Human Sciences
Research Council (HSRC) field workers collecting data for the
2012 South African National HIV, Behaviour and Health Survey.
HSRC Chief Executive Officer, Dr Olive Shisana, says the study is
collecting data that will provide a very comprehensive assessment
of the health of the people in this country.
"This is an important study to identify information that is going
to be useful for planning services. We have a major problem with
regard to HIV in this country - more than 5.6 million are
infected with HIV. For that reason, we need to be tracking this
epidemic to see... Are the programmes being implemented actually
helping to reduce new infections or not?" Shisana says.
Dr. Shisana says this study has been critical in terms of
monitoring the performance of the country in the implementation
of HIV and AIDS programmes. She says the current National
Strategic Plan in South Africa based its information very much on
the results of this survey which has been conducted every three
years since the study began in 2002.
"It's very important that we get as many people participating in
this study because we can only get accurate and complete
information if more people participate. If we don't do that the
results we get do not become very useful for the country. So, we
encourage people to really give the best that they can... give
their time and speak as much as possible to our researchers", she
The HSRC admits that some of the questions the survey asks are
personal. It urges citizens to co-operate in providing
information as this is for the benefit of the country.
"There is a sexual history question that is a few pages long. It
talks about your sexual history... the first time you had sex,
how many sexual partners you've had. Some people are reluctant to
answer. For example, we visited a Muslim area and they don't want
to talk about their sexual history", says Randy Shakey, an HSRC
The study also requires participants to give their blood samples
for laboratory-based HIV testing. HSRC CEO, Dr Shisana, says the
White and Indian communities as well as educated and affluent
Africans have been very reluctant to partake in the blood
"They say: 'I already know my HIV status', 'this is not a problem
in my area', and some say 'I don't have time for this'. It's
very important we encourage those people to participate because
if we don't have information from the white community that's
accurate, from the Indian community, from educated blacks, we
will have a problem of estimating the prevalence in those
particular areas", she says.
Dr Shisana said there is no reason for these communities to fear
giving their blood specimens.
"The good thing about this (is) it's really anonymous and
confidential. Even when I'm on the field, I won't know the
results of the blood sample because it will be sent directly to
the laboratory", she says.
However, the HSRC will not inform individual participants of
their HIV status. Advising participants on how to follow up on
their tests, she says:
"We actually refer them to the clinics; we send the results to
their clinics; they have to go through the process of being
counselled before; and another test will be done to verify the
results", says Dr Shisana.
The survey is quite intense and it takes a minimum of three hours
to conduct, as it involves every member of each household,
including children. But HSRC executive director, Professor
Leickness Simbayi, says they are flexible with time and are
willing to visit each household up to four times to complete the
"It depends on the availability of the people in the households.
If people are working, the best times to visit would be in the
evenings or over weekends. We are flexible, depending on when
there are people at a given household", says Professor Simbayi.