DURBAN – Condom use last year declined among all age groups in South Africa,  according to the latest household survey released by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

This is a concerning development in a country which has high rates of HIV infection and one of the largest populations living with HIV.

Some 399 million condoms, both male and female, were distributed, against a target of just over one billion last year.

Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the HSRC, expressed concern over the lack in behavior change, reflected by the poor rates of condom use.

“Condom use is one of the most effective means to prevent HIV infection among sexually active people, and has contributed to reductions in HIV infections in South Africa and other countries” said Shisana.

Shisana said there was not enough information available on media such as billboards to inform the public on where to find condoms and this was reflected by the findings that most people now purchased their condoms.

She said that while the health department wanted to increase access to male condoms, there had to be more analysis on where condoms were being make accessible as well the branding of the products.

Lebogang Ramafoko, the CEO of the Soul City Institute for Health, said the reason for the decline among the older group could be attributed to the fact that once couples start families, condom use changes in compared to when they were younger.

“When one has a family, they tend to trust their partner and condom usage sometimes tends to not exist,” says Ramafoko.

“The department of health needs to think about improving the access issue of condoms and with that they need to think about the rebranding for various (target) groups,” says Ramafoko, adding that condoms are a commodity that needs proper market research and proper marketing.

Another disturbing finding from the survey was the fact that HIV prevalence among unmarried people was double that of married people –  19.2 per cent compared to 9.8 per cent.  The survey also revealed that the proportion of South Africans living with HIV increased from 10.6 per cent in 2008 to 12.3 per cent in 2012.

On a positive note, the survey confirmed that two million people were on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment by mid 2012 and has had a major impact on the lives of people living with HIV.

“When one analyses the data, you realise that HIV prevalence is growing among the older groups which means those are people who were already infected and are probably taking antiretroviral treatment and are therefore living longer,” said Shisana.