Sub-Saharan Africans Gambling With HIV/AIDS Infection, Report Says

More than 80 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa – the area most affected by HIV/AIDS – know how to prevent the disease, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

More than 35 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV or AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa, which for the purposes of the poll includes the whole continent except the Maghreb, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, leads the world in AIDS rate.

Africans make up about two out of every three AIDS cases in the world. In countries like Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, the life expectancy for citizens is around 35 years because of the pandemic.

The Gallup poll asked citizens of sub-Saharan countries to rate their awareness of AIDS prevention techniques and disclose how that affects their lifestyle.

The poll found that more than 80 percent of people over 15 years old in the region agree that abstinence, condom use, never reusing needles and monogamy are effective ways to avoid HIV/AIDS infection.

However, those polled said that although they know how to prevent AIDS, they are still unlikely to employ preventative methods.

“A median of 40 percent (of those polled) say they have ever used (a condom), ranging from 64 percent in South Africa to 12 percent in Niger,” the poll’s report said.

There are large gaps in many countries between the percentage of people who understand contraception use can prevent AIDS and the percentage of people who actually use contraception.

“In most countries surveyed, the gap between agreement that people should use condoms and reported use is at least 15 percentage points,” the report said.

For instance, the greatest difference is in Mali, where 79 percent agree latex condoms reduce the risk of AIDS transmission, while only 21 percent have ever used a condom.

“Perhaps access to reliable sources of condoms is one of the issues,” the report said. “While the findings do not shed light on the source of such barriers, initiatives that involve community and religious leaders as well as traditional healers may help narrow the gap between individuals' HIV/AIDS awareness and their actions.”

Events like Thursday’s World AIDS Day, which falls annually on Dec. 1, seeks to close that gap between awareness and action. A panel including U.S. President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, will discuss ways to provide aid, medication and preventative education to the region.

Polling was conducted in 15 sub-Saharan African countries in 2009.

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