Exploring students’ uptake of HIV testing services at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College, as part of the universal test and treat initiative.
Okelola, Oluwabunmi Ajoke.
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Adolescents and adults between the ages of 15 – 49 years remain disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection in South Africa. An estimate of 7.2 million people are living with HIV in South Africa. In KwaZulu-Natal, which is the most severely affected province, studies reveal that 23% of those living with HIV, do not know their HIV positive status. In the light of this, there is an urgent need to bridge the gap in HIV testing as a means of preventing the transmission of the virus. This research is a case study which explores students’ uptake of HIV testing services as part of the Universal Test and Treat (UTT) initiative. By using the Social Ecology Model of Communication and Health Behaviour and the Health Belief Model, this study seeks to achieve a wholistic understanding of students’ testing practices, identify key facilitators and barriers to HIV testing and explore students’ knowledge of the (UTT) as a prevention and treatment approach to HIV. The global efforts to achieve a significant reduction in HIV infection by 2020 is a strong focus of the UTT approach which promotes combination prevention, highlighting the importance of getting everyone tested frequently, with those who test negative offered condoms and Pre-Exposure prophylaxis. Similarly, those who test positive are offered immediate treatment. There is a dearth of research on HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) among students in the urban areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Using a qualitative approach to research, 4 focus group discussions with 19 male and 18 female students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal between the ages of 18- 35 years were conducted to collect data. Participants were purposively selected according to age, location, those that have tested for HIV at least once in the last 12 months and those that have never tested. Thematic analysis was used to create themes that emerged from data collected. Key findings in this study revealed that students are at risk of HIV infection because of risky sexual practices. Furthermore, misconceptions about HIV prevention methods were also identified in this study. Barriers to HCT include fear of a positive result, lack of confidentiality and privacy, HIV-related stigma and perceived low risk to HIV infection. Facilitators to HCT include perceived high risk to HIV infection and the use of incentives. Furthermore, there is a lack of knowledge about the UTT approach which contributes to negative perception of HCT. This study emphasized the need to increase knowledge and awareness of the UTT in order to impact the uptake of HIV testing services among university students.