Objectives: To investigate the level of knowledge of different categories of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and their impact on practice of risky sexual behaviours and HIV transmission in rural Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
Methods: A cross-sectional study, including all individuals aged 15–44 years living in Oria village, Kahe ward, was conducted between March and May 2005. All consenting individuals were interviewed and offered HIV testing.
Results: The response rate was 73.0% (1528/2093). Overall, knowledge of STIs was 38.6%. Having a casual partner (59.4%) and multiple sexual partners (50.6%) were mentioned as the most potential sources of STI. Genital ulcers and vaginal discharge were the predominant symptoms noted whereas abstinence and condom use were the preferred preventive measures. Knowledge of STI complications, including HIV transmission, was very low (22.0%) in this community. The low knowledge of STI complications was significantly associated with recent (past 4 weeks) practice of multiple sexual partners (AOR 2.4, 95% CI 1.1 to 8.7), not using condoms with casual partners (AOR, 2.7, 95% CI 1.2 to 7.5) and HIV serostatus (AOR 3.4, 95% CI 1.8 to 14.5).
Conclusions: Overall STI knowledge and its link to HIV transmission was alarmingly low in this community. Knowledge of STI complications may play an important role in inducing safer sexual behaviours and hence HIV prevention. Interventions addressing HIV/STI knowledge should put more emphasis on raising awareness of complications as this may play a major role in HIV/STI prevention.
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Contributors: EJM designed the study, collected the data, analysed and interpreted the results, drafted the manuscript and wrote the final draft. GHL designed the study, collected the data and reviewed the manuscript. KSM designed the study, supervised data collection and reviewed the manuscript. KIK designed the study, interpreted the results and reviewed the manuscript.
Funding: This work was, in part, funded by a grant from The Norwegian Programme for Development, Research and Higher Education (NUFU) and facilitated by the collaborating institutions: Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College, Centre for Education in Health Development Arusha in Tanzania and the Universities of Oslo and Bergen, Norway. Additional financial support was provided through the Centre for Prevention of Global Infection (GLOBINF) at the University of Oslo.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: Ethics approval was obtained from the Tanzanian and Norwegian Ethical Committees. Regional and village leaders also gave permission for the conduct of the study.