Lost opportunities in HIV prevention: programmes miss places where exposures are highest
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: Efforts at HIV prevention that focus on high risk places might be more effective and less stigmatizing than those targeting high risk groups. The objective of the present study was to assess risk behaviour patterns, signs of current preventive interventions and apparent gaps in places where the risk of HIV transmission is high and in communities with high HIV prevalence. Methods: The PLACE method was used to collect data. Inhabitants of selected communities in Lusaka and Livingstone were interviewed about where people met new sexual partners. Signs of HIV preventive activities in these places were recorded. At selected venues, people were interviewed about their sexual behaviour. Peer educators and staff of NGOs were also interviewed. Results: The places identified were mostly bars, restaurants or sherbeens, and fewer than 20% reported any HIV preventive activity such as meetings, pamphlets or posters. In 43% of places in Livingstone and 26% in Lusaka, condoms were never available. There were few active peer educators. Among the 432 persons in Lusaka and 676 in Livingstone who were invited for interview about sexual behaviour, consistent condom use was relatively high in Lusaka (77%) but low in Livingstone (44% of men and 34% of women). Having no condom available was the most common reason for not using one. Condom use in Livingstone was higher among individuals socializing in places where condoms always were available. Conclusion: In the places studied we found a high prevalence of behaviours with a high potential for HIV transmission but few signs of HIV preventive interventions. Covering the gaps in prevention in these high exposure places should be given the highest priority.