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Knowledge and beliefs about sexually transmitted infections among rural high school learners in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Adolescents are exposed to many sources of information on reproductive health, yet little is known about how well these sources are correctly educating them about sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV and AIDS. The aim of this study was to assess basic knowledge and beliefs pertaining to STIs among rural high school learners in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. A cross-sectional survey design was used to collect data from a sample of 150 learners recruited randomly from grades 10, 11 and 12. A self-administered questionnaire was used to collect data on demographic information, beliefs, symptoms and types of sexually transmitted infections. Approval to conduct the study was received from the Eastern Cape Department of Education and the school authority. Participants’ mean age was 18.8±1.7 years; 65.1% were females and over 70% of the participants hailed from either very poor (11.7%) or poor (60%) homes. The findings indicate that 58.2% either discussed sexual issues with their peers or nobody. Although the majority (64.2%) of the participants believed that condoms can prevent STIs, only a third believes that STI can be cured using medication. With regard to identifying symptoms of STIs, the number of participants that correctly identified them with “yes” responses ranged from 16.7-28%; and among a range of STI types identified, HIV was the only type the majority (67.3%) of the participants were able to identify correctly, followed by gonorrhea (37.0%) and syphilis (31.9%). It was established in the study that knowledge of HIV as a type of STI was significantly associated with the belief that condoms can prevent STIs (p=0.013). Results also showed significant relationships between discussing sexual issues with( parents, educators, peers and no-one) and knowledge of some STI symptoms like foul smell (p=0.021), blisters on the penis (p=0.033) and clear vaginal discharge (p=0.021). These results indicate that learners have poor and inadequate knowledge about STIs. The study, therefore, recommends that all School Health Promotion programmes must involve parents, educators, health workers and communities in addressing reproductive health issues that affect the youths.