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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Socio-economic inequality and HIV in South Africa

Njeri Wabiri1* and Negussie Taffa2

Author Affiliations

1 Epidemiology and Strategic Information Unit, Human Sciences Research Council, Private Bag X41, Pretoria 0001, Gauteng, South Africa

2 United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), QED GrS2oup LLC, Windhoek, Namibia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1037  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1037

Published: 4 November 2013



The linkage between the socio-economic inequality and HIV outcomes was analysed using data from a population-based household survey that employed multistage-stratified sampling. The goal is to help refocus attention on how HIV is linked to inequalities.


A socio-economic index (SEI) score, derived using Multiple Correspondence Analysis of measures of ownership of durable assets, was used to generate three SEI groups: Low (poorest), Middle, and Upper (no so poor). Distribution of HIV outcomes (i.e. HIV prevalence, access to HIV/AIDS information, level of stigma towards HIV/AIDS, perceived HIV risk and sexual behaviour) across the SEI groups, and other background characteristics was assessed using weighted data. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression was used to assess the covariates of the HIV outcomes across the socio-economic groups. The study sample include 14,384 adults 15 years and older.


More women (57.5%) than men (42.3%) were found in the poor SEI [P<0.001]. HIV prevalence was highest among the poor (20.8%) followed by those in the middle (15.9%) and those in the upper SEI (4.6%) [P<0.001]. It was also highest among women compared to men (19.7% versus 11.4% respectively) and among black Africans (20.2%) compared to other races [P<0.001]. Individuals in the upper SEI reported higher frequency of HIV testing (59.3%) compared to the low SEI (47.7%) [P< 0.001]. Only 20.5% of those in poor SEI had “good access to HIV/AIDS information” compared to 79.5% in the upper SEI (P<0.001). A higher percentage of the poor had a stigmatizing attitude towards HIV/AIDS (45.6%) compared to those in the upper SEI (34.8%) [P< 0.001]. There was a high personal HIV risk perception among the poor (40.0%) and it declined significantly to 10.9% in the upper SEI.


Our findings underline the disproportionate burden of HIV disease and HIV fear among the poor and vulnerable in South Africa. The poor are further disadvantaged by lack of access to HIV information and HIV/AIDS services such as testing for HIV infection. There is a compelling urgency for the national HIV/AIDS response to maximizing program focus for the poor particularly women.