Startling new evidence from a three-year survey shows that HIV is now growing fastest among those who are wealthier and educated.
“Our belief that HIV is a disease of the impoverished, the unemployed, the uneducated is actually wrong,” says Professor Carel van Aardt, Director of Research at UNISA’s Bureau of Market Research.
“It seems that the most rapid growth at the moment is among the educated, among the employed, among the people with higher incomes, and also the people in high class in society.
“And it’s putting really at risk also, a very substantial part of the growing black diamond class in South Africa, which is very necessary for future economic development and we’re also seeing a very high growth among the white group that was for a long time believed not to be so heavily affected by HIV/AIDS.
Van Aardt described the current trend as a “third epidemic”, following after the first HIV infections, which were mainly confined to gay men, and the second, which predominantl affected poor heterosexuals.
Data gathered over the research period shows a consistent rise in HIV infections among professionals and people in permanent employment.
In 2002, an estimated 6.2% of professional people were HIV-positive. By 2004, had increased to 8.3% — an increase of 34%.
HIV infection among full-time employees has increased from about 14.1 % in 2002 to about 19.2 % by 2005 – a 36% increase.
Van Aardt says that there has also been an HIV increase of almost 40% among the economic elite – “the drivers of the economy in terms of also their household expenditure”. The HIV rate among this group is 8.5%.
The survey involved 3 500 South Africans representative of the demographics of the country. These were divided into five groups, ranging from very high risk to virtually no risk individuals.
The very high risk group comprised of young people under the age of 30 with diverse educational and financial backgrounds, dubbed “lover boys and girls” by the researchers.
“This group has extremely promiscuous behaviour,” says Mari Harris, Director and political analyst at Markinor.
“They do not believe that when you use a condom you would be protected. Quite a large proportion of them believe that AIDS can be cured, whether it’s by Western medicine or by an inyanga or sangoma. And quite a big proportion – bigger than the other groups – believed that AIDS can be cured if you have sex with a virgin,” adds Harris.
“One would almost assume that these would be people that have little or no education, which is actually not true. They also wouldn’t use a condom when they have sex. They have very negative views about condoms.”
Van Aardt believes that these attitudes could indicate that prevention programmes are not effective.
“A lot of people say that they are confused because sometimes they hear that AIDS is really dangerous and that AIDS kills. Some other people actually tell them that by using specific basic products that it can be cured,” says Van Aardt.
“People hear from a lot of their leaders conflicting messages. And it’s very important to have an effective campaign. There must be a consistent message driven to the people, otherwise people are simply not going to believe that message.”