The 3rd South African National HIV, Behaviour and Health Survey has kicked off in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban aiming to reach 28 000 people in 15 000 randomly selected households across the country in the next five months.

The survey will be undertaken by a consortium of research institutions, led by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), and seeks to find out the levels of HIV infection in South Africa, and to learn what South Africans know, believe and feel about HIV/AIDS.

“This survey is a key instrument in our understanding the reach of HIV in our country. If we cannot reliably ascertain the extent of the disease in the country, we cannot plan accordingly,” said Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the HSRC.

“We need reliable figures so that a host of health and social interventions in response to HIV in the public, private and NGO sectors, can be targeted and implemented accurately.”

Fieldworkers are already in the field in the Western Cape, Gauteng, North-West, and the Free State.

The survey involves asking participants to be pricked on a fingertip or heel (in the case of babies using a small pin known as a lancet), which will yield a few drops of blood that will be collected on special paper.

Those aged 12 years and older will also answer questions about their health and sexual behaviour. Participation is voluntary and all participants will remain completely anonymous.

The point is not to furnish participants with their results, but rather to gain a clearer understanding of the reach of HIV/AIDS in South Africa and people’s responses to the epidemic.

Many high profile individuals in South Africa have given their support to this important study and have agreed to promote participation in the survey. These calls for participation are aimed at all South Africans – old and young, of all races, able-bodied and disabled, and people from many different backgrounds.

In Pretoria, Hlubi Mboya, who plays HIV-positive Nandipha in the SABC soapi Isidingo, gave a blood sample for the survey. “My dream”, she said, “is to see an AIDS-free generation”.

The 5fm morning show team, hosted by Gareth Cliff, who gave a blood sample on air on Tuesday, called on listeners on air to participate in the study if they are selected for giving a blood sample and the accompanying questionnaire.

At the HSRC office in Cape Town, Olympic swimmer Natalie du Toit also joined in the call for participation of young, and especially white South Africans, in the survey. She also gave a blood sample to illustrate the anonymous nature of the survey.

Information from this survey will inform policy makers about the HIV/AIDS situation in South Africa and will also help to inform HIV prevention campaigns and contribute to the expansion of services for people and families infected and affected by AIDS and people living with HIV/AIDS.

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