One of the events associated with World AIDS Day each year is the launch of the UNAIDS report on monitoring the global epidemic. In this report UNAIDS use all the available data to summarise trends in HIV prevalence throughout the world. This information is essential in order to understand the epidemic, where it is spreading and why, and where it has been contained and how. However it is very difficult to get the necessary information on a disease which is so stigmatised, and where many people are not aware of their condition.
The preliminary figures show that the level of HIV has been stabilised, with 6% of adults living with the virus in 2007, compared to 7% in 2003. The data released this week will allow the government and development partners to plan for treatment and care for sufferers and to target prevention measures by looking at which groups of people have higher infection rates, and what types of behaviour are spreading the disease in Tanzania.
In order to get these figures, several thousand people have been sampled at random across Tanzania and then they answered a questionnaire and provided samples of blood for testing.
Amazingly almost everyone chosen agreed to give their blood sample. People are a lot more helpful in answering surveys in this part of the world than in the UK, maybe because they don’t get as many requests for information as we do. This is great news for the statistics as it makes the sample a lot more representative of the country.
It is really important in all surveys to make sure that the results are completely anonymous and that the information is only used for statistical purposes and this is even more important in a survey like this - where such sensitive and personal information is being obtained.
However while in most surveys when the interview ends that is the end of the contact with the respondent, in this case one of the side benefits is that the government offers assistance to the respondents in the case that they want to know the results of the tests.