Objective: To compare reported numbers of sexual partners in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Methods: Sexual partnership data from four longitudinal population-based surveys (1998–2007) in Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa were aggregated and overall proportions reporting more than one lifetime sexual partner calculated. A lexis-style table was used to illustrate the average lifetime sexual partners by site, sex, age group and birth cohort. The male-to-female ratio of mean number of partnerships in the last 12 months was calculated by site and survey. For each single year of age, the proportion sexually active in the past year, the mean number of partners in the past year and the proportion with more than one partner in the past year were calculated.
Results: Over 90% of men and women between 25 and 45 years of age reported being sexually active during the past 12 months, with most reporting at least one sexual partner. Overall, men reported higher numbers of lifetime sexual partners and partners in the last year than women. The male-to-female ratio of mean partnerships in the last year ranged from 1.41 to 1.86. In southern African cohorts, individuals in later birth cohorts reported fewer sexual partners and a lower proportion reported multiple partnerships compared with earlier birth cohorts, whereas these behavioural changes were not observed in the Ugandan cohorts. Across the four sites, reports of sexual partnerships followed a similar pattern for each sex.
Conclusions: The longitudinal results show that reductions in the number of partnerships were more evident in southern Africa than in Uganda.
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Funding: JT, J-BB and AW received financial support from the Medical Research Council of UK, TL was supported by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, BZ was supported by the Global Fund for AIDS TB and Malaria. The Africa Centre work was supported by the Wellcome Trust UK through grants 50535, 65377, NMcG (WT083495MA) and VH (WT082599MA). All remaining authors were supported by the Wellcome Trust, which also funds the activities of the ALPHA network (GRO75886MA).
Competing interests: None.