Research by UKZN staff member Ms Lungelo Khanyile revealed that men may have unsafe sex or have multiple concurrent partners once they are circumcised or go on to an oral PReP regimen.
The research, which earned Khanyile a Master’s degree in Social Sciences, examined factors that influence how men choose which HIV prevention methods they want to use, focussing on oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) and how men respond to risk compensation.
Risk compensation is ‘the idea that there will be an increase in risky behaviour when a person thinks their risk to HIV infection is low following the use of HIV preventative measures. Important in my study is the idea that men may have unsafe sex or have multiple concurrent partners once they have become circumcised or go onto an oral PrEP regimen.’
Her findings reveal that ‘there seems to be a lack of HIV knowledge, from contracting to preventing HIV infection. PrEP is seen as a panacea for HIV infection and would most likely result in the increase of risky sexual behaviour.
The most prudent finding which would benefit society is that combination prevention is the only way to reduce our high HIV infection rates and that should include behaviour counselling.’
Speaking about some of the moments that stood out for her in her study, Khanyile said: ‘When speaking to the older men (aged between 30 and 39), they were still confused about how a person contracts HIV and remains HIV negative. This contradicts what we read and hear that our nation has HIV knowledge/awareness fatigue. It showed me that we need to go back to basics about HIV awareness and roll out awareness campaigns that do not assume that people already know what to do. This will resonate with the target audience.’
While completing her studies, Khanyile faced health issues and major family changes. ‘I was ready to submit in December 2020 but I contracted COVID-19 and fell very ill. Another huge hit for me was losing my mother to COVID-19- related complications and shortly after that my grandmother died. These were the women who had supported and encouraged me my whole life. It was a huge blow and as a family we are still struggling to come to terms with their deaths.’
She dedicated her degree to her mother and grandmother and also thanked her fiancé, family, friends and supervisor Professor Eliza Govender for being her support system. ‘I am grateful that I was fortunate to have a supervisor who never gave up on me even when I had given up on myself and was ready to quit. She went above and beyond what was required of her as a supervisor.’
On her future plans, she said: ‘I am fortunate that the job I do at Developing Research Innovation, Localisation and Leadership (DRILL) in South Africa and Strengthening the Workforce to Improve Treatment and Care for HIV (SWITCH) incorporates studies through which I have gained a lot of insight and experience. I am surrounded by so many early career and established researchers and they have inspired me to continue with my education and pursue a PhD in the near future.’
Khanyile advises other students to ‘choose your supervisor carefully as they can make or break you. Do not let the challenges you may face during your journey deter you.’