Survey to gauge HIV prevalence in South Africa kicks off

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and its partners on Tuesday launched its sixth South African HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey.
The aim of the survey, also known as the sixth South African Behavioural, Sero-status and Media Impact Survey (SABSSM VI) is to gather information on HIV incidence, prevalence and other related indicators in the country.
First commissioned by late President Nelson Mandela in 2001, the study is a population-based, cross-sectional survey of households throughout South Africa.
HSRC’s Overall Principal Investigator, Professor Khangelani Zuma, said the study is conducted to understand the factors driving the HIV epidemic and its dynamics and is used to inform policies and strategies to tackle the epidemic.
Repeated every five years, 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the first round of the survey.
The agency said one important addition to the study this year is that a sub-sample of participants will be randomly selected to test for SARS-Cov-2 antibodies to better understand the impact of COVID-19.
The data gathered will also determine the antiretroviral treatment (ART) exposure, viral load suppression, HIV drug resistance, and risk behaviours.
The study will take place across all nine provinces and is targeting 93 000 participants from about 25 000 households.
According to HSRC, fieldworkers have already started working in communities and will continue throughout the year.
Fieldworkers, who will be identifiable by their HSRC-marked bibs and identity cards, will introduce themselves and explain the purpose of the study.
Once a participant has consented to participate, researchers will complete a questionnaire on the health behaviour of the participant using a tablet and collect a blood sample to test for HIV, and for some, SARS-CoV-2 antibodies provided the participant consents to testing after completing the questionnaire.
If a participant consents to be tested for HIV, the HIV testing and counselling (HTS) data collectors will provide pre-and post-test counselling.
‘If a person tests HIV-positive, the HTS counsellor will link them to HIV treatment with their consent.”
The United States President’s Emergency Plan funds the survey for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the US Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The success of this survey rests with the South African people. We encourage all the selected households to participate. By completing the survey, people are making a direct contribution to shaping the South African government’s health policies and ensuring that all the people that need testing and treatment get it,” said CDC Country Director, Dr John Blandford.
SABSSM VI is conducted by the HSRC in partnership with the CDC, South African Medical Research Council, the University of Cape Town, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and PEPFAR South Africa.
South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) CEO, Dr Thembisile Xulu, said: “This study is arguably the most important health survey done in the county. It gives us an up-to-date picture of HIV prevalence and incidence. Plus, it helps us identify hotspot areas so that the Health and Social Development departments can develop highly targeted interventions to address the spread of HIV and provide treatment to those that need it most”. – SAnews.

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