Perceived barriers to the uptake of health services among first-year university students in Johannesburg, South Africa

Nozipho Orykah Musakwa, Jacob Bor, Cornelius Nattey, Elisabet Lönnermark, Peter Nyasulu, Lawrence Long, Denise Evans
PloS One 2021, 16 (1): e0245427

BACKGROUND: Young people face many barriers to accessing appropriate health care services including screening for HIV and tuberculosis (TB). The study aimed to identify perceived barriers to the uptake of health services among young adults entering the tertiary education system in South Africa.

METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional study among first-year students aged 18-25 years, registered at one of three universities in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2017. Participants completed a self-administered paper-based questionnaire. We describe perceived barriers to accessing health services, stratified by gender and recent engagement in TB or HIV services, together with sources of information about HIV and TB.

RESULTS: Seven hundred and ninety-two (792) students were included in the study of which 54.8% were female. Perceived barriers to accessing services included long waiting time (n = 342,43.2%), attitude of health workers (n = 263,33.2%), lack of sufficient information/poor health literacy (n = 148,18.7%), and inability to leave/stay away from studies (n = 137,17.3%). Among participants who tested for HIV in the past 6 months (n = 400, 50.5%), waiting time and attitude of health care workers were perceived as barriers to accessing services. Compared to males, females were more likely to view attitudes of health workers (40.3% vs. 25.0%; p = 0.001) and inability to leave/stay away from studies (20.5% vs.13.4%; p = 0.025) as potential barriers. While just over half of the students (50.5%; 400/792) in this study had accessed health services in the past 6 months, very few (15.0%) opted to use campus health services, and even less (5%) reported receiving information about HIV and TB from the university itself.

CONCLUSION: Despite perceived barriers to accessing HIV and TB services off campus, fewer than one in five students starting out at university opted to use campus health services. Campus health services could address many of the barriers unique to university students.

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