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AIDS fatigue and university students’ talk about HIV risk

Tamara Shefer
Anna Strebel
Joachim Jacobs


Drawing on a qualitative study that included 20 focus group discussions with  male and female students at an urban-based university in South Africa, this article reports on perceptions, attitudes and reported behaviour with respect to HIV and AIDS and safer sex in the campus setting, with an aim to better  understand how young people are responding to the challenges of HIV and AIDS in contemporary South Africa. The findings demonstrate the gap between  reported HIV-prevention knowledge and safer-sex practices among a group of young and educated South Africans. Although the participants reported that students were knowledgeable about HIV and had easy access to condoms on campus, a range of factors mediated their capacity to apply this knowledge to safer-sex practices. Besides the usual set of complex social-cultural dynamics, including normative gender roles and power inequalities between men and women, socioeconomic challenges, and differences in age and status between sexual partners, the findings reveal substantial denial, stigma and HIV/AIDS ‘fatigue.’ The findings point to the importance of seeking creative ways to impart HIV-prevention and safer-sex messages that are not explicitly referent to  HIV but link rather with broader issues concerning relationships, lifestyle and identity, and hence are responsive to the particular cultural context of university campuses.

Keywords: attitudes, condom use, gender issues, HIV prevention, risk perceptions, sexual behaviour, stigma

African Journal of AIDS Research 2012, 11(2): 113–121