Wall Street Journal Examines HIV Prevention Program Targeting Girls Who Rely on ‘Sugar Daddies’ for Economic Security
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday profiled Shaping the Health of Adolescents in Zimbabwe, an HIV/AIDS prevention program that offers young girls a "financial prophylactic" to help them avoid sexual relationships with "sugar daddies." Many orphans and poor young women in Africa maintain sexual relationships with older men who help pay their living expenses and school fees or support their families. These sexual relationships have been a major factor in the spread of HIV in Southern Africa, where HIV prevalence rates are as much as six times as high in girls ages 16 to 19 as in boys of the same age group, the Journal reports. SHAZ last month began recruiting 200 volunteers for a pilot program that will provide girls with life-skills training, vocational classes, mentors and microcredit loans to start small businesses. In the pilot program, which is a prelude to a larger study of 1,000 girls, half of the girls will receive the entire training package, while the other half will receive only the life-skills training. Researchers at the end of the study will determine whether the girls receiving the full training had lower HIV, herpes and pregnancy rates; delayed the onset of sexual activity; fewer sex partners; and repayed the loan and maintain their small businesses.
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot called the SHAZ approach "absolutely the right thing" and said that teen girls' relationships with older men are driving the HIV/AIDS epidemic in other countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa. However, the program faces major obstacles -- sugar daddies are a cultural tradition and AIDS orphans often rely on the money from those relationships to care for their siblings. "[H]ow do you say to people, 'Stop having the relationship,' when they want food on the table? It's a tradeoff between having the risk of AIDS in 15 years and having an empty stomach now," Imelda Mudekunye, a project coordinator for SHAZ, said. Dr. Nancy Padian, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California-San Francisco and lead researcher for SHAZ, plans to launch similar programs in India, Mexico and San Francisco (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 2/25).