Background. We visited Harare, Zimbabwe in the summer of 2005 to do research for this project. Our aim was to learn about the HIV-epidemic in one of the worst affected countries in the world, and more specific about what drives the epidemic, focusing on sexual risk behaviour. We assumed that sexual risk behaviour was highly correlated to the extent of the epidemic.
Method. We interviewed 21 women in three different supportgroups in suburbs around Harare. The women were interviewed about openness in the relationship according to HIV-testing, openness about HIV in the relationship, prevention and some background information. We also collected information about the same 21 women from a HIV-preventing research project, ”Better help for african mother and child”, lead by Professor Babill Stray-Pedersen at Rikshospitalet, Oslo and effectuated by Edith N. Kurewa, a midwife in the obs/ gyne department in Parirenyatwa Hospital, Harare. In addition, we did a literature search on the topic after we came home.
Results. Most of the women we interviewed reported that they didn’t find it difficult to talk about HIV with their partners. All of them had told their partner whether they were HIV-positiv or not, but some had delayed to tell about it because of fear of stigma. In bigger studies, we get the impression that it’s often quite hard to talk about HIV with the partner and using prevention is very casual and dependent of what the man want. Few of the women we interviewed had used condom/ femidom consequently, but many of them used it now and then. They had an average sexual debut at 18,6 years of age (equals the average of the general population), they had an average of 1,9 lifetime sexual partners and a very high HIV-prevalence (81 %).
Conclusion. There is some evidence that there has been a change in sexual behaviour, and that this is reflected in a reduction in new HIV-cases. Sexual risk behaviour is a very complex area with factors in the personal-, interpersonal- and more distal context. It plays a role in the epidemic, but it’s hard to conclude to what extent because it’s qualitative knowledge and it’s dependent on the responders’ ability to report facts and not on what they think they should answer. Our findings can reflect that being in a support group makes it easier to talk about HIV, but our population was quite small, and therefore we can not conclude on anything at a statistical ground.