The fight against Aids in North West has been hampered by myths, including the belief government-issue condoms "have worms", researchers say.
The finding is reported in a study in the latest issue of the Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/Aids. Though the "worms" myth was raised by only a few respondents in
a survey conducted across the province, the researchers said it was persistent, and came up in all the focus group discussions they had held.
They quoted one group participant, a man, as saying: "People think they [the state-issue condoms] have worms... I say anything for free is not good. I heard people talking that the condoms have worms. They say you must put some water in it, lift it high up in the air, look through it and you will see the worms swimming around."
The same man believed that condoms were part of a neo-apartheid white plot to "get rid" of black people. The researchers, Marije Versteeg and Montagu Murray, both currently at the University of Pretoria, said other myths they encountered were that condoms themselves were a source of HIV infection, and that they could trigger pain in the kidneys.
They said their findings showed that easy access to condoms was no guarantee they would be used.
Discrediting condom myths 'pivotal' in Aids fight
"While increased HIV and Aids awareness efforts would be helpful in countering some of the gaps in knowledge and myths, it must be taken into account that there will be some opponents of condom usage who are not interested in this message, as myths are conveniently drawn on to avoid using condoms," they said.
Among other reasons they uncovered why people did not use condoms, was that they were said to reduce the pleasure of sex, that they had physical side-effects such as a rash, that males feared that using free condoms would make them look "cheap", and that disempowered women had difficulties in negotiating safe sex.
The researchers said there was a need for ongoing raising of awareness of HIV, and promotion of condom use - including the discrediting of myths - remained pivotal. "However, this should be part of a developmental approach which tackles the underlying conditions that inhibit some people from using condoms, despite good awareness of HIV and Aids," they said.
The researchers said condom use was a major strategy to reach the government's goal of halving the rate of new HIV infections by 2011.
The study, which included interviews in 50 households, was carried out in rural and peri-urban communities in 2005. The prevalence of HIV in North West two years before the study had been just under 30%. – (Sapa, May 2009)
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