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The awareness and perceptions of sexually transmitted infections among students attending the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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A high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been reported among youth globally and this high prevalence calls for global efforts to improve sexual and reproductive health in this population. The prevalence of STIs in young South African women and men is 0.50% and 0.97% for Syphilis, 6.6% and 3.5% for Gonorrhoea and 14.7% and 6.0% for Chlamydia. Increased evidence on behavioural change is dependent on the comprehensive understanding and perception of one’s own risk. Updated evidence of awareness and perception of STIs in university students is needed to inform relevant sex education programmes. The purpose of this study is to assess awareness and perceptions of STIs in students enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Methodology The study used a quantitative research approach. This study was conducted at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. The sample consists of 142 undergraduate and postgraduate registered students between the ages of 18 and 35 years. The study used purposive sampling to obtain the sample. A self-administered survey assessing awareness and perceptions of sexual risk behaviour and STIs was administered. Data was analysed using descriptive statistics. Means and standard deviation were used for continuous variables. Analyses were stratified by gender using Chi-square tests as it was expected that there would be differences in awareness and perceptions regarding risky sexual behaviour and STIs.. Analyses were done with STATA version 15.1. Results The study found that 78% of the students were aware of STIs. There was a significant association regarding awareness of Chlamydia infections, p=0.015. Similar to the other infections, a higher proportion of males were aware of Chlamydia when compared to females (96.4% versus 82.8%, p=0.015). Similar to Chlamydia infections, there was a significant association regarding awareness of Trichomonas across the different genders (p=0.011). According to the analysis, females are exposed to awareness of STIs from a younger age when compared to their male counterparts. Most students (34.5%) had reported that they had received information on STIs from social media and from their school teachers. There was a significant difference in the responses related to same sex practices and STI risk (p=0.047). While some students had socially acceptable perceptions, there were some that were not acceptable including sexual debut (34,5%), concern about being at risk of STI (31%), condom-less sex as an STI risk (21.2%), ease of condom negotiation (41.5%), pregnancy being more risky than STIs (28.8%) and alcohol as an STI risk (28.2%). Conclusion This study had revealed the students have high awareness of STIs. Despite the high awareness, the students still have low risk perceptions especially towards condom use, alcohol consumption and age disparate relationships. These distorted attitudes will subsequently impact on the risk behaviours and further research needs to be conducted in order to fill the gap between awareness and perception. This study highlighted the clear discrepancy between the awareness of STIs and the reported perceptions of students. Future research to evaluate STI messaging and assess actual risk versus perceived risk in this population is recommended.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.