There’s always a big build-up to 1 December each year, when we commemorate World Aids Day and think about things like safe sex and getting tested. But just because this date has passed doesn’t mean you can relax. Protecting yourself from HIV/Aids is something you need to think about every day, particularly if you’re in a high-risk group.
Scary World Aids Day stats: Who’s at the highest risk of contracting HIV?
Anyone who practices unsafe sex is at risk of HIV infection. However, according to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), if you’re a woman between the ages of 15 and 24, you face the greatest danger. In 2012, results of the South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour survey, carried out by the HSRC, found that the HIV incidence rate among this group was more than four times higher than for men in the same age group.
Here are some more sobering statistics:
- 4.5% of South Africans are HIV positive.
- Black African females aged 20 to 34 years were found to be the greatest affected.
Why is HIV infection on the rise?
Today, HIV infection rates remain scarily high, despite better access to information, greater awareness around the disease and commemorative days like World Aids Day. There are a number of reasons for this based on social, structural and biological factors, including:
- Declining condom use. Many young people believe that they are at low risk of infection due to lack of information.
- Prevalence of ‘sugar daddy’ relationships. There is a high incidence of age-disparate and/or transactional relationships between young women and older men, who also have a high incidence of HIV infection.
- Extremely high incidence of gender-based violence. Horrifyingly, one in three young girls in South Africa report being raped. If you, or someone you care about, is the victim of gender-based violence, it’s vital you read this guide.
What can you do to stay safe?
The stats are scary, but it’s simple to keep yourself safe. Here are some effective ways to protect yourself:
- Power up on knowledge: Understanding how HIV is transmitted is essential to keeping yourself protected. It’s especially important to educate young people at school level. If you have younger people in your care, or if you’re a relative, teacher or elder sibling, you can help by educating the youngsters in your life.
- Getting tested. Clinics like Marie Stopes give young people safe, confidential access to high-quality sexual healthcare services, like HIV and STI testing, contraceptive counselling, safe abortions and more. Get tested regularly and encourage others to do the same. Remind others that places like Marie Stopes exist to provide caring, affordable services to men and women of all ages. And if you’re nervous about getting tested, you definitely need to read this article.
- Be empowered. Remember that as a woman, you have the right to protect your health by insisting that your partner uses a condom and stays monogamous. Teach other young girls that they have these same rights, even if they’re in relationships with older men.
- Use a condom EVERY time you have sex. Even if you’re using contraceptives, use dual protection every time you enjoy sexual activities. Only condoms can protect against contracting HIV and STIs.