Updated 24 June 2014

An introduction to disease prevention

Because there is no cure or vaccine for HIV-infection yet, prevention by not allowing the virus to get into the body in the first place, is the only answer.


Because there is no cure or vaccine for HIV-infection yet, prevention by not allowing the virus to get into the body in the first place, is the only answer.

Scientists at the XIVth International AIDS conference in Barcelona said that medical discoveries (medication or vaccines) will always have to be accompanied by control of or change in sexual behaviour.

The only ways to prevent HIV-infection are:

  • behavioural control - that is Safer sex, and
  • bio-medical control (medicines).

100% safe

The only totally reliable way of preventing oneself from being infected by sexual transmission of HIV, is total abstinence from sex (i.e. not having sex at all). Abstaining from sex is the only 100% effective way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. Young people in particular should therefore be encouraged to abstain from sex or at least to delay their commencement of sexual relationships for as long as possible.

Let's be realistic
Abstinence is in some instances, however, neither realistic nor desirable. A mutually faithful relationship with an uninfected partner is therefore the ideal. Sex with one loyal, uninfected partner is one sure way of not getting HIV infection (with the proviso that both partners are absolutely faithful and reliable). In cultures where a man has more than one wife (or vice versa), both he and each of his wives should be uninfected and remain faithful to their relationship.

If a person chooses to have more than one sex partner, the risk of contracting HIV is always inevitably higher. It is therefore wiser to limit the number of one’s sex partners, and to always practise safer sex. Note that the term ‘safer sex’ is used, and not the term ‘safe sex’ because, in the presence of the HI virus, one can never guarantee absolute safety.

The best way of protecting oneself against HIV is by opting for sexual activities that do not allow semen, fluid from the vagina, or blood to come into contact with the mouth, anus, penis or vagina of the partner.

Barrier methods (such as latex condoms, or the femidome, or female condom) that prevent semen and other bodily fluids from passing from one partner to another are the most effective preventive methods to use if people are having sex with more than one sex partner. Barrier methods also reduce the risk of contracting other STDs.

HIV transmission through sexual contact can occur vaginally, anally or orally. Man-to-woman transmission is now the most common form of HIV sexual transmission in Africa. Women (and to a lesser extent men) who remain faithful to their partners (and who therefore do not feel that it is necessary to use condoms), run a very high risk of contracting HIV when their partner has had sexual contact with an HIV-infected person outside (or before) their relationship.

In the Safer Sex section
Male condom, including aspects such as

  • How effective?
  • How to use a male condom,
  • Tips to prevent condoms from breaking or leaking,
  • Lubrication,

The Female condom, including aspects such as:


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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