In terms of our Annual Health Calendar in South Africa, the week between 10th February 2017 to 16th February 2017 has been designated the STI/Condom Week, a period that is dedicated to create more awareness and to reinforce the need for all sexually active people in South Africa to use condoms consistently when they engage in sexual activities, whether those sexual interactions are taking place between males and females; or between males; or between females.
A big question might be posed by some as to why there is still a need for such an advocacy week to preach the regular use of condoms, when most people already know about the need for people to Condomise regularly when they are engaged in sexual activity with non-regular sexual partners, or regular partners wherein they do not know their partners’ HIV status.
A simple answer to such a question is that condoms are still the most efficient, cost effective (inexpensive), most widely available, easy to store and transport, prevention tool in the global fight against new HIV infections. In addition to their usefulness to fight new HIV infections, condoms also help to reduce the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections (e.g. Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Human Papillomavirus ), as well as prevention of unintended pregnancies, therefore the importance of their consistent usage goes way beyond prevention of new HIV infections.
In the context of the fight against HIV and AIDS globally and locally, whilst there is enough evidence to show that over the past two decades, the levels of condoms usage have increased significantly, it is very worrying to also see research reports that there is between 30% to 80% of people globally who for whatever reason chose not to use condoms during their most recent sexual encounters with their non-regular partners, despite knowing that they should be using condom for protection. This worrying fact of lack of use of condoms by people who know better, tells us that whilst Knowledge Is Power, from a health prevention programmes point of view, Knowledge Does Not Always equate to change in risky sexual attitudes or behaviour, or even adoption of safer sexual practices.
When we look at the HIV epidemic in South Africa, research reports that were shared at the Global AIDS Conference in Durban last year in 2016 revealed that our country had recorded about 529 670 new HIV infections during the year 2015, which translates to about 1451 new daily infections, which should not be happening nowadays with the many available prevention tools that promote reduction of the number of sexual partners (preferably one) , regular condoms usage, use of pre-exposure ARV drugs, in the ABCD prevention arsenal that is available to all South Africans.
Significant progress has been achieved in the fight against HIV and AIDS in our country during the past decade or so, with the Mother To Child Transmission rates at almost zero percent; with the largest scientifically informed Antiretroviral Disease Management programmes, 155 000 annual AIDS-related deaths, from over 300 000 annual deaths at the height of the epidemic in South Africa about 10 years of more ago. So, progress has been made in many critical areas of the HIV and AIDS fight, but the eradication of new infections is still stubbornly very high, and if we want to help eradicate HIV pandemic with the rest of the world by 2030, in line with UNAIDS Goals, then a renewed focus on reinvigorating the HIV infection prevention efforts is very critical.
In South Africa, there are a number of reasons that are contributing to these new HIV infections that we are still seeing despite the whole host of prevention arsenal against HIV infections, and the young women between the ages of 16 years and 24 years are the most affected age group, with regards to new HIV infections.
The common inter-generational practice of transactional sex between older more financially secure males with younger impressionable and often immature young women, which is known as Sugar Daddy Phenomenon or Blessers Phenomenon, is one of the key drivers of these new HIV infections amongst the young women, because these older Blessers usually insist on unprotected sexual intercourse Uku-tawna in Eastern Cape street lingo, and the young ladies finding it difficult to negotiate and insist on condom usage by their older partners (who often have multiple concurrent sexual partners), and in so doing engage in risky sexual activity.
Also, the traditional cultural practices of polygamy and the patriarchal societal power play which limits the power of women to negotiate and insist on condom usage by their partners or husbands also plays a key driving role, especially in our rural communities, resulting in high HIV prevalence in many rural communities, where polygamy is practised.
The migrant labour system which for years has provided cheap labour to the mining and agricultural industries also creates an environment whereby males are often away from homes for long periods of time, and these males usually engage in risky sexual activities with prostitutes, where they get HIV infected and in turn infect their partners back home in the rural areas, when they visit during Easter or December holidays.
The complexion of the migrant workers has now changed from being associated with less educated rural folk who work in the mining, agriculture, transport and fishing industries, nowadays there are many more educated professional men and women whose modern high profile jobs take them away from their families for long periods of time, for example, Policemen, Defence Force Personnel, Business Consultants, Business Leaders, and Politicians. These modern day migrant workers are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV infections if they do not consistently condomize, should they be involved in sexual activities with their non-regular partners.
In conclusion, my key wellness message is that it is the responsibility of all of sexually active South Africans to ensure that everyone plays a positive role in eradicating new HIV infections, by ensuring that everyone knows that condoms are available for every penile size, latex thickness preference, taste and smell, and lubrication levels. For South Africans who rely on the Government issued condoms, the new flavoured Max Condoms are top notch SABS products offering maximum pleasure and maximum protection, and to crown it all, borrowing from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa utterances in Parliament last year, “the Max Condoms do not make noise“.