They protect us, but are they using protection? The potential impact of HIV on the South African Police Service
The drivers of HIV/AIDS in the South African Police Service (SAPS) and impact of the disease on this workforce are neglected areas of research. Existing evidence suggests that while the occupational risk for contracting HIV is low, there are factors associated with the profession that, if left unmanaged, place police officers at risk of contracting HIV. This study’s two aims are to identify the potential pathways of HIV infection within policing services and determine the probable impact of HIV/AIDS on SAPS. Through a systematic literature review on HIV/AIDS within police services, and by analysing selected SAPS human resource data, the causal pathways and impact of HIV/AIDS on police services are explored. The study finds that police officers (particularly male officers) are likely to be highly susceptible to HIV infection as a result of risky sexual behaviours born out of occupational characteristics such as high levels of stress, difficult working conditions, living away from home and interactions with sex workers. The problem is exacerbated by the ‘macho’ culture that often prevails among police officers. HIV/AIDS interventions within SAPS must focus on sustained behaviour change. Further, HIV programmes must equip officers with the knowledge and awareness to avoid engaging in high-risk sexual practices that may compromise their health and the effectiveness of the policing service.