More pressing concerns than HIV/AIDS - survey

Unemployment and poverty are more pressing concerns for Africans, ahead of the threat of HIV/AIDS, a survey by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) has found.

Although interviews with 23,000 adults from 15 African countries showed that many people, especially in east and southern Africa, had lost family members or friends to the pandemic, the disease was still considered less of a priority than concerns over jobs and hunger.

"On a continent in which many people go without basic necessities, the relatively longer-term threat of HIV/AIDS must stand in line behind more pressing, immediate concerns," IDASA's public opinion service programme manager, Bob Mattes, told PlusNews.

Most respondents were undecided about whether their governments should divert resources from other scarce priorities to tackle HIV/AIDS, Mattes said. African publics were not always convinced that HIV/AIDS constituted a problem worthy of government attention.

Some people had not yet grasped the collective social, economic or political significance of the pandemic and preferences were not well formed - many had simply not thought about the issue before they were interviewed by the researchers, IDASA noted.

While just one in 10 respondents cited AIDS as one of their three most important problems, almost one-quarter of all respondents mentioned health as an important issue.

Less educated respondents were more likely to talk about health rather than AIDS, and publics in poorer countries were also more likely to emphasise health rather than AIDS, the institute said.

In East Africa, 85 percent of Ugandans and 66 percent of Kenyans admitted to having lost at least one relative or close friend to AIDS-related illnesses. Southern Africa had similar results, with three-quarters of Zambians, seven in 10 Namibians and six in 10 Malawians claiming to have experienced an AIDS-related loss, according to the survey.

Lower proportions reported experiencing losses where national epidemics had started later, such as Botswana (36 percent), Mozambique (22 percent), Lesotho and South Africa (18 percent each). The figures for West Africa were generally lower, ranging from one in five Ghanaians (19 percent) to one in 10 Nigerians.

The information is contained in a set of five documents released by the "Afrobarometer", which summarises findings on evolving attitudes and opinions related to democracy, unemployment, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

To access the briefing papers: www.idasa.org.za