Objective: Available evidence on the relationship between marital status and HIV is contradictory. The objective of this study was to determine HIV prevalence among married people and to identify potential risk factors for HIV infection related to marital status in South Africa.
Methods: A multistage probability sample involving 6 090 male and female respondents, aged 15 years or older was selected. The sample was representative of the South African population by age, race, province and type of living area, e.g. urban formal, urban informal, etc. Oral fluid specimens were collected to determine HIV status. A detailed questionnaire eliciting information on socio-demographic, sex behaviour and biomedical factors was administered through face-to-face interviews from May to September 2002.
Results: HIV prevalence among married people was 10.5% compared with 15.7% among unmarried people (p-value < 0.001). The risk of HIV infection did not differ significantly between married and unmarried people (odds ratio (OR) = 0.85, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.71 - 1.02) when age, sex, socio-economic status, race, type of locality, and diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) were included in the logistical regression model. However, the risk of HIV infection remained significantly high among unmarried compared with married people when only sex behaviour factors were controlled for in the model (OR 0.55; 95% CI: 0.47 - 0.66).
Conclusions: The relationship between marital status and HIV is complex. The risk depends on various demographic factors and sex behaviour practices. Increased prevention strategies that take socio-cultural context into account are needed for married people.