PROGRESS: Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi released the third National HIV Communication Survey in Washington yesterday. Picture: THE TIMES

HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi yesterday welcomed the findings of the third National HIV Communication Survey, which showed more South Africans are taking HIV tests, using condoms and getting circumcised to protect themselves from the disease.

SA has one of the world's worst HIV epidemics, with about 11% of the population infected.

The study, which sought to gauge the effect of communication programmes such as those produced by loveLife, Soul City and Siyayinqoba Beat It, found South Africans were indeed changing their behaviour to reduce their likelihood of getting HIV, as a result of the information they had received.

It was encouraging to see that the survey found President Jacob Zuma's decision to take a public HIV test had prompted many South Africans to follow suit, said the minister in a telephone interview from Washington, where he released the survey. Dr Motsoaledi is attending the week-long 19th International AIDS Conference.

The survey found 17,4-million South Africans, or 63% of the population, had taken an HIV test, of which 10,2-million were tested in the past year as part of the government's testing campaign.

"We need to step up communication (on HIV) and not just through the media," said Dr Motsoaledi, arguing that authorities from district councillors to provincial leaders all had a role to play. "The other significant finding that makes me excited is medical male circumcision. When the issue . was first mooted within the South African National Aids Council there were those who were very sceptical and scared that if we promoted it people would stop using condoms.

"(The survey shows) 85% of men who are circumcised know they must use condoms, which shows that fear was misplaced," he said.

The survey found that over half of South African men are now circumcised, and just under 1-million men were considering getting the procedure done in the next year to protect themselves from HIV.

The research, which included 10034 respondents throughout SA, was conducted jointly by Johns Hopkins Health and Education in SA, loveLife and Soul City, and was funded by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The finding that the number of people exposed to HIV communication campaigns had fallen slightly in the past three years was worrying, said Saul Johnson, MD of Health and Development Africa, which managed the survey.

This was because the survey found that the more people are exposed to HIV communication programmes, the more likely they are to adopt or maintain behaviour that reduces their risk of getting HIV.