This article describes young people's interpretation of HIV, AIDS and sexually transmitted illness in a rural South African community in Mankweng, Limpopo Province. Method: The study was based on 19 focus group discussions with adolescents aged 12-14 years. Results: Our participants had limited knowledge about HIV from a biomedical perspective. Their understanding and interpretations of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases were largely informed by traditional and religious belief systems that explain how and why people contract an illness via sexual intercourse. Based on these interpretations, they also expressed distrust towards the medical health system, and where to go for care, support and treatment. Local traditional healers were often mentioned as the only people who could cure several of the sexually transmitted diseases described by our informants. Conclusions: The ways of understanding HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted illnesses may weaken efforts of health education interventions based solely on a medical and modern notion of disease. The authors emphasise the importance of exploring traditional and religious belief systems and taking these into account when planning and designing behaviour change interventions.
Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 37(Suppl 2)
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