/ 29 November 2010

A drink too far

A Drink Too Far

The December holidays can be a time of fun and excitement, with family reunions and a much-needed break for parents, teachers and others. The holiday period is also a high-risk time for the transmission of HIV and Aids and the increased use of alcohol.

Some key groups at risk include migrant workers who visit rural homes, young learners on an extended holiday with its inevitable periods of boredom and those on a month-long party to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

The South African National Aids Council’s World Aids Day theme, “We are all responsible”, is a call to recognise the different levels of responsibility that individuals, couples and communities have in HIV and Aids transmission.

A 2005 Human Sciences Research Council report indicates the following on alcohol use among teachers:

  • 5,3% of teachers are classified as high-risk drinkers;
  • Drinking levels are highest among coloured and black males (18% and 16% respectively);
  • Younger teachers drink more than their older counterparts;
  • Teachers in urban areas drink more than their counterparts in non-urban areas; and
  • Drinking rates are particularly high among teachers in informal urban settlements (23,1% compared to 15,5% and 13,7% in formal and non-urban areas respectively).

The evidence that alcohol consumption leads to risky and unsafe behaviour that undermines HIV-prevention strategies is compelling. Firstly, more than 20 studies in Africa have shown higher HIV infections among people with problem drinking (Lewis, JJ, et al, 2005), with drinkers having twice the HIV prevalence compared to non-drinkers (Fisher, JC, et al 2007).

Secondly, studies of people on antiretrovirals show those who have problematic drinking are less likely to adhere to treatment, making them more infectious (Kalichman SC, et al, 2007 and Shisana, O et al, 2008). Thirdly, these studies also show that people who are problem drinkers are more likely to have multiple sexual partners, and higher-risk behaviours, with 26% having multiple partners compared with 24% of recreational drug users and 17,4% of African males.

A 2008 study by Soul City into multiple and concurrent sexual partners indicated that alcohol use is a major contributor to multiple and concurrent sexual partners.

Respondents said that taverns, shebeens and social parties are places where sexual partnerships begin and that alcohol plays a role in people losing control. This leads to their having sex, whether it is planned or not.

One respondent said: “A condom is difficult to put on when you are drunk; you do not remember where you put it, it wastes time, sometimes you do not have it, and you do not want to keep the person waiting. Just do it against the wall anywhere.”

Soul City’s Phuza Wize Drink Safe Live Safe Campaign will highlight this World Aids Day the link between alcohol consumption and the HIV and Aids epidemic. The campaign supports the creation of safe drinking places and lists steps that drinking places can take to make them safer and to reduce unsafe sex. The tips are:

  • Do not serve alcohol to minors, visibly pregnant women and people who are drunk;
  • Serve food and non-alcoholic drinks and make water freely available;
  • Display safe sex messages and have condoms available;
  • Have good lighting, clean toilets and adequate security;
  • Mark clearly and adhere to inside and outside serving areas;
  • Have no more than three people per square metre in the drinking place; and
  • Discourage customers from driving when drunk.

Savera Kalideen is Advocacy Manager at Soul City