n Southern African Journal of HIV Medicine - Knowledge, attitudes and personal beliefs about HIV and aids among mentally ill patients in Soweto, Johannesburg : original article

Volume 12, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1608-9693
  • E-ISSN: 2078-6751



The aim of the study was to determine knowledge, attitudes and personal beliefs regarding HIV and AIDS in a group of mentally ill patients attending outpatient clinics in Soweto, Johannesburg.

All patients attending four randomly chosen clinics in Soweto were invited to complete a self-administered questionnaire after obtaining informed written consent. The 63-item questionnaire, developed from others specifically for this study, included questions on socio-demographic and clinical characteristics; knowledge on how HIV is acquired and spread; attitudes and beliefs regarding HIV and AIDS; and condom usage. The statements in the knowledge sections were used to calculate a composite score, which if greater than or equal to 75% was defined as 'adequate knowledge'.
A total of 1 151 patients with mental illness participated in the study. The mean age was 41.9 years (standard deviation 11.6) and the majority were males (50%); single (55%), and had achieved only a secondary level of education (53.3%). Overall, most of the study population did not believe in the myths surrounding the spread and acquisition of HIV and AIDS. There were however, significant associations between a low level of education and the belief that HIV is acquired from mosquito bites (odds ratio (OR) 1.61; 95% CI 1.19 - 2.18; p=0.002) and through masturbation or body rubbing (OR 1.76; 95% CI 1.34 - 2.33; p=0.000). Although more than 90% of the patients were aware of the facts regarding the spread of HIV, approximately 40% did not believe that one could acquire HIV through a single sexual encounter. The composite scoring for knowledge showed that less than half the patients had adequate knowledge of HIV/AIDS. This was significantly associated with gender and level of education: females were 1.6 times (p<0.0004) and patients with Grade 8 or higher education 1.5 times more knowledgeable (p=0.002).
Among mentally ill patients there is both a lack of knowledge about most aspects of HIV and AIDS and a belief in some of the myths associated with the acquisition and spread of the disease, especially among older, less educated patients. It is imperative that a targeted strategy be developed for this vulnerable group, taking into cognisance their inherent lower level of education and the cognitive impairment associated with mental illness, to educate them on all aspects of HIV and AIDS and to improve access to services.

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