Name: SOUTH AFRICA: ART patients defy risky sex expectations, says study
Date: 11/5/2010
Source: PlusNews Global HIV/AIDS news and analysis
Priority: Low

A new South African study reports that patients on ARVs are reporting lower levels of sexual activity and are practicing safer sex. Many have speculated that sexual activity and risks would increase after the start of ARV treatment because HIV positive patients on ARVs would feel much healthier and therefore would therefore not be deterred from engaging in risky sexual behaviour. The study looked at the sexual habits of 2,332 HIV-positive patients from Soweto (urban) and Mpumalanga (rural) from 2003-2009. They reported on their sexual behaviour before and after beginning ARV treatment. Both male and female patients were less likely to report being sexually active after they started ARVs and they also reported having less unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners.

The study did not focus on why this decrease occurred in HIV positive patients taking ARVs but there is speculation that “the experience of “staring death in the face” and then getting better on ARVs” might have changed people’s actions. Things like counselling and safer sex messages in clinics may have also played a role.

This is one of the first studies of this type to be carried out in the area. There is a need for further studies to confirm the results as well as to learn why patients’ behaviour changed.

If the findings can be confirmed “there is double reason to start people on treatment, not just for their own health but to reduce sexual risk behaviour.”

Action Steps:
Partnering with treatment programs (like GRS does in Zam, Malawi, etc) could increase the strength of the GRS message and make an impact on HIV transmission rates.