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Exploring the Health Belief Model and first-year students’ responses to HIV/AIDS and VCT at a South African university

Priya Buldeo
Leah Gilbert


The Health Belief Model (HBM) is a psychosocial framework that attempts to explain health behaviour. It is determined by an individual’s personal beliefs or perceptions about a disease and the options available to decrease its occurrence. In the context of sexual risk behaviours, literature reveals that knowledge about HIV/AIDS and Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) are key strategies in the management and prevention of HIV. This study was conducted in 2011, the same year the First Things First campaign was implemented in universities across South Africa to maximise opportunities for HIV testing among youth. It aimed to identify first-year students’ responses to HIV/AIDS and VCT at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). The mixed research methods consisted of self-administered structured questionnaires with a sample population of 195 first-year students and 2 in-depth interviews with experts in the field of HIV/AIDS. Descriptive statistical analyses (frequencies and cross-tabulations) and thematic content analysis was carried out. The findings indicate that students are willing to know their status. The positive influence of peers is a motivation for those accessing VCT. However, some students do not access VCT due to personal fears while other students do not access VCT because of their low individual risk perception for HIV due to sexual abstinence. It concludes that university students’ self-efficacy and cues to action might bring about a positive change in the future of the epidemic within a university context.

Keywords: attitudes, First Things First, health behaviour, knowledge, perceptions, risk, university students