The human and social development agency researches social trends and developments in South Africa.
Right now, Zungu said, just 39% of the population aged 15 and over are using condoms.
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This is bad news in the country’s fight against HIV and AIDS. South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with 7.2 million people living with the virus — and with 270,000 new HIV infections in 2017.
But it's also bad news for gender equality, with young women at the greatest risk of infection. In fact, more than 10% of young women are HIV positive, compared to 4% of young men, according to Reuters.
Ending HIV/AIDS epidemics around the world is one of the key targets under Global Goal No.3 for health and wellbeing, along with ending the spread of tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases.
But it will take a united effort, from governments and from the private sector, but also from individuals.
“One of the reasons why people do not use condoms is trust,” she said. “Often when one is in a relationship, they start to think that they don't have to use a condom, assuming that their partner is faithful.”
Other reasons are fear and age dynamics in transactional relationships between older men and young women, condom fatigue (basically just decreased condom use), unplanned sexual encounters, and alcohol and drug use.
“There also beliefs about what a condom represents to people,” she added. “To some, it represents lack of trust.”
She said that when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, people fear pregnancy more than they fear sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“There’s an awareness to prevent pregnancy, but no concern that someone can pick up an STI,” she added.
The low condom use is alarming considering that the country provides free male and female condoms in public and private hospitals, campuses, and schools.
Meanwhile, Zungu added that the government is exploring ways of making these free condoms more appealing to young people — such as the Max condom initiative, which has replaced old government condoms that were generally seen to be smelly and inferior.
But, as Zungu said: “People have a choice of what they need to do.”