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Sunday Times-South Africa
HIV rate way down thanks to condoms
Katharine Child
February 14, 2012
Sunday Times (Johannesburg) - February 14, 2012

The rate at which South Africans contracted HIV fell by 30% between 2000 and 2008, mostly due to increased condom use, according to a new study published in the Royal Society journal Interface last month.

The study was conducted by an actuarial scientist and epidemiologist from the University of Cape Town, an expert from the Human Sciences Research Council and another from the department of infectious disease epidemiology at London's Imperial College.

One of the study's authors, Leigh Johnson, of the university's school of public health, said that the study used mathematical models to work out what is contributing to the significant decrease in HIV infections.

The evidence links condom use to the 30% decrease in the rate of infection and finds that advertising campaigns played a role in encouraging condom use.

The increases in reported condom use coincided with the introduction of HIV education programmes.

Johnson said that the results of the study are important because there has been increasing scepticism about donating money to programmes that encourage condom use and behaviour change - such as being tested or reducing the number of sexual partners.

He said it is often easier to get funding for bio-medical interventions that are measurable, such as medical circumcisions.

Results from the study also showed that "people weren't using condoms as often as they said they were, or condoms were less than 90% effective".

Researchers believed that people tend to over-report their usage of condoms.

The publication of the study coincides with the third National HIV Communication Survey, which measures the effectiveness of HIV communication campaigns and the role they play in encouraging and maintaining beneficial behaviour change.

The survey was commissioned by NGOs loveLife and Soul City, the Johns Hopkins University health and education research unit in South Africa, and Health and Development Africa, which provides technical assistance in health and development.

The director of the Johns Hopkins unit, Richard Delate, said that previous studies had showed that young men were using condoms far more often.

"Condom use by young men aged 16 to 24 increased from 20% in 1999 to 75% in 2009," he said.

However, Delate said, condoms are not always available.

There are huge problems in some areas where there were less than 10 to 15 condoms available per sexually active man over a year.

Figures from the 2008 and 2009 survey show that the City of Johannesburg made about eight condoms available to each sexually active man each year, and the Ekurhuleni municipality on the East Rand provided about six.

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