The aim of AIDS educational campaigns is to reduce the spread of HIV infection by changing attitudes and practices related to high‐risk behaviours. However, before such programmes can be implemented, certain assessments should be conducted. These include assessments of the existing knowledge, attitudes and sexual practices of specific risk groups.1 Among those groups assessed should be professionals and volunteers who are engaged in managing patients with AIDS. For these reasons, we evaluated the knowledge and practice about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in health sciences students from Chile.
We adapted, modified and then validated the World Health Organization's standardised survey inventories assessing AIDS‐related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices for adolescents.2,3 A 23‐question survey, conducted among students from the schools of medicine and attention to mental retardation (AMR; known as Parvularia in Spanish, studied during first and fifth years) at the Antofagasta University (northern Chile) was used to evaluate knowledge and practice about HIV/AIDS and STIs. This evaluation was performed during 2005. The total registered number of students for both careers was obtained, then using this as the universe population, with a confidence level of 99.99%, we calculated the probabilistic sample to survey. The required survey sample size was calculated using Epi Info V.6.0. Statistical analysis with SPSS V.10.0 involved use of the χ2 test, Student's t test and Fisher's test using 95% CIs (significant at p<0.05).
From a total population of 5100 students (59.8% medicine, 40.2% AMR), 30.2% were surveyed (95% CI 26.3 to 34.4%; 55.2% medicine, 44.8% AMR). After this initial selection none of the students refused to participate in the survey. Mean (SD) age was 20.5 (2.7) years (range 15–29 years; no significant differences were observed between medicine and AMR groups, p>0.05). About 44.2% of the students had been sexually active in their life (23.4% only once; no significant differences were observed between medicine and AMR groups, p>0.05). Nearly all were heterosexual (99%; no significant differences were observed between medicine and AMR groups, p>0.05). About two‐thirds (66.1%) did not use condoms for sexual intercourse (70.2% medicine, 20% AMR; p<0.001), but about half (52%) reported using a condom at the last episode of sexual intercourse (60% medicine, 100% AMR; p<0.001; fig 11).). From this group, 61.3% reported having had unsafe sex after alcohol or drug misuse (75.4% medicine, 40% AMR; p<0.001). About 1 in 40 (2.6%) described a previous STI (no significant differences were observed between medicine and AMR groups, p>0.05). Concerning testing for HIV infection, only 0.6% had taken an HIV‐ELISA test once, but 73.9% stated that they were willing to do so (85.9% medicine, 48.2% AMR; p<0.001; fig 11).). However, 94.8% considered it important to try to prevent becoming infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
In Chile, the first HIV case was notified in 1984. Up to December 2003, >6060 cases of AIDS and 6514 people with HIV have been reported. The burden of mortality has risen to 3860 deaths in the 13 regions of the country.4 The 18–49‐year‐old group accounts for 85% of cases in Chile, and is the main age group infected in the second region of the country (Antofagasta) where this study was carried out.4
Today, studies taking into account the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS should be tailored to survey those populations at risk and those people who manage infected individuals. Many studies have demonstrated the importance of such epidemiological research.5,6,7,8 Current results, although limited with respect to other factors related to behaviour for the prevention of the HIV (that should be expanded in further studies), based on the observed risky behaviour in this evaluated young population (which represented a significant sample of health sciences students from a Chilean university), indicated the importance to educate and provide more instruction on different aspects of HIV/AIDS and STIs, particularly about prevention, and reproductive and sexual education. We concluded that sexual and related behaviour among the health sciences students surveyed in Chile is risky for HIV/AIDS and STIs, and that knowledge about these diseases is limited, compromising an appropriate practice of self‐prevention. Further studies in this setting are expected.