Changing patterns in HIV/AIDS stigma and uptake of voluntary counselling and testing services: the results of two consecutive community surveys conducted in the Western Cape, South Africa

AIDS Care. 2013;25(2):194-201. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2012.689810. Epub 2012 Jun 13.


Voluntary counselling and HIV testing (VCT) has been associated with decreased human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk behaviour, but in South Africa, which has the largest HIV/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic in the world, uptake of VCT remains low. HIV/AIDS-associated stigma has been identified as a barrier to HIV testing. This study explored changes in stigma, and VCT access in a peri-urban South African community with high HIV prevalence, following education and research interventions, as well as the introduction of a wide-scale antiretroviral therapy (ART) programme. Two cross-sectional community surveys assessing HIV knowledge, attitudes and uptake of VCT services were conducted. The first survey was performed in 2004 prior to the implementation of a community-based HIV awareness and education campaign, HIV prevention research studies and the introduction of an ART programme. The second survey was performed in 2008 after a three-year education programme, the implementation of HIV-related research studies and following the scale-up of the ART programme. The same study design was used in both the 2004 and 2008 surveys: 10% of households were randomly selected and all residents aged ≥ 14 years were invited to complete a self-administered questionnaire. Overall basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS increased from 2004 to 2008 (p=0.04) and stigmatisation towards HIV-positive individuals decreased over the same time period (p<0.001). Increasing knowledge score was significantly associated with a lower stigma score (p<0.001). Decreasing stigma score was associated with knowing someone who was HIV infected (p<0.001), or who had died from HIV/AIDS (p=0.04). The proportion of participants who had undergone HIV testing increased from 2004 to 2008 (40 vs. 70%, respectively) and, in particular, VCT increased from 26 to 43%. In adjusted analysis, participants who had undergone HIV testing were more likely to have a higher HIV knowledge score (p=0.02) and a lower stigma score (p=0.09). A reduction in levels of HIV/AIDS-associated stigma was noted in a community burdened with high HIV prevalence, as was an increase in reported VCT. These findings may be the result of a number of interventions including a wide-spread and targeted education campaign, and the "normalisation" of HIV through the availability of ART. Given the role of HIV/AIDS-associated stigma in influencing choices to access HIV testing, and the benefits associated with HIV testing, interventions to reduce stigma in communities affected by this disease should be encouraged.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Counseling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prejudice
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk-Taking
  • Self Concept
  • Social Stigma*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • South Africa
  • Stereotyping
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urban Population
  • Voluntary Programs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult