To 'test' or not to 'test'? : an exploratory study of WITS students' responses to Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT).

Buldeo, Priya
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The health of University students is important as these individuals are central to the future economic sector. Since HIV/AIDS is a major public health threat in South Africa (SA), it is vital to develop health initiatives that aim to reduce the HIV prevalence rate among youth and to promote positive health behaviour. Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) is one such initiative. The National Department of Health (NDoH) recently implemented the „First Things First‟ campaign that aims to promote VCT among youth. In line with the NDoH‟s initiative, this study explored the factors that shape attitudes towards VCT among first year students at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). This study was conducted using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods. The respondents included 195 first year students out of approximately 220 who participated in a survey and two key informants in the field of HIV/AIDS whom I interviewed. With regards to ethical considerations, the study protected the respondent‟s rights by maintaining anonymity of all survey participants and exercised care that the human rights of individuals and the reputation of WITS as an institution were safeguarded. Based on conceptual models of health behaviour, the study identified factors that shaped students responses to VCT. The results of this study indicate that youth at WITS go for VCT mainly to know their HIV status. This is being triggered by them knowing someone who has either; been for VCT, is living with HIV or passed away due to AIDS. In addition, the free availability and easy accessibility of VCT services on campus and the positive influence of peers through social mobilisation were regarded as key motivations for students accessing VCT. However, some students seem to not access VCT services due to personal fears of rejection, blame and discrimination if they were to be found HIV-positive. The gendered dynamics and nature of clinics together with the poor attitudes of some health service providers were also major barriers to VCT uptake among youth. The findings conclude that many students know that VCT is a necessary and beneficial process. It also found that there are multiple factors that work together in complex ways to shape the reasons why youth choose to „test‟ or not to „test‟ for HIV.
Voluntary Counselling and Testing, Wits students