University students form an important constituency in interventions against HIV and AIDS. The majority of university students are between ages 18 and 30 years, which, according to recent surveys, is the age category at the highest risk of HIV infection. Even though there is currently no comprehensive statistical data on the HIV prevalence at South African institutions of higher learning, a number of studies have noted increasing AIDS-related deaths and sicknesses among students. This highlights the need for effective intervention against HIV infections within this community. Condom use remains the most effective intervention against HIV infection within sexually active populations. This paper examines perceptions of public-sector condoms and their impact on condom use among university students, based on the findings of research conducted at three universities in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Study findings indicate that public-sector condoms are perceived as ineffective, smelly and even ‘infectious’ and are widely seen to be of lower status as compared to the commercial brands. These perceptions were found to influence condom use as some students preferred to engage in unprotected sex rather than use public-sector condoms. The paper highlights the need for communication programmes to demystify the misconceptions surrounding public-sector condoms and to provide reassurance of the quality of such condoms.
Keywords: condom use, networks, public sector, sexual behaviour, young adults
African Journal of AIDS Research 2009, 8(3): 311–320