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Objectives: A cornerstone of HIV prevention in South Africa is voluntary HIV antibody counselling and testing (VCT), but only one in five South Africans aware of VCT have been tested. This study examined the relation between HIV testing history, attitudes towards testing, and AIDS stigmas.
Methods: Men (n = 224) and women (n = 276) living in a black township in Cape Town completed venue intercept surveys; 98% were black, 74% age 35 or younger.
Results: 47% of participants had been tested for HIV. Risks for exposure to HIV were high and comparable among people tested and not tested. Comparisons on attitudes toward VCT, controlling for demographics and survey venue, showed that individuals who had not been tested for HIV and those tested but who did not know their results held significantly more negative testing attitudes than individuals who were tested, particularly people who knew their test results. Compared to people who had been tested, individuals who were not tested for HIV demonstrated significantly greater AIDS related stigmas; ascribing greater shame, guilt, and social disapproval to people living with HIV. Knowing test results among those tested was not related to stigmatising beliefs.
Conclusions: Efforts to promote VCT in South Africa require education about the benefits of testing and, perhaps more important, reductions in stigmatising attitudes towards people living with AIDS. Structural and social marketing interventions that aim to reduce AIDS stigmas will probably decrease resistance to seeking VCT.