10 April 2006

South Africa: Taking a Shower Will Not Prevent HIV

Former deputy president Jacob Zuma's irresponsible HIV statements are causing confusion, prompting a body representing more than 12 000 HIV specialists to clarify matters.

Zuma stands accused of raping an HIV positive woman in his Johannesburg home.

During cross examination at the rape trial Zuma said he took a shower straight after sex with his HIV-positive rape accuser as a way of reducing his chances of contracting the virus and that he had unprotected sex with the woman because he believed the risk of transmission was minimal. Zuma also disclosed that he has multiple sex partners.

The Southern African HIV Clinicians Society (SAHIVS), the largest assembly of the South African Medical Association's Special Interest Groups released a statement at the weekend to "clarify" Zuma's claims.

HIV groups believe these statements by Zuma, a former chairperson of the National Aids Council, was a huge setback for prevention campaigns.

In an effort to clarify matter SAHIVS stated that:

* The most effective protection from HIV that a person can use during sex is the correct use of a condom. Consistent use is required for protection. An overwhelming body of science has confirmed that condoms are highly effective at prevention of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

* Showering or bathing will not prevent HIV transmission. In the case of women, douching (washing of the vagina) may even increase the risk of HIV transmission.

* Not using safer sex practices, including the use of a condom when one has multiple sexual partners, shows reckless disregard for your partners' health.

* All South Africans who are sexually active should find out their HIV status regularly. It is taking responsibility for your own health.

There is safe, effective treatment for those who are infected.

"As the Society, we are now aware of large numbers of queries from the public to helplines and to health care workers, about whether showering can replace condom use," said SAHIVS president Dr Francois Venter.

He added that their perception was that there had been significant confusion sown in the minds of the public.

"We call on public figures to show responsibility when making statements on HIV prevention, especially when these are in conflict with current scientific and government messages," Venter added.

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