Inexpensive Prevention Methods Reduce Unintended Pregnancies, Spread of HIV Among Kenyan Teenagers, Study Says
Inexpensive prevention methods can reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and curb the spread of HIV among teenagers in Kenya -- where teenage girls are seven times more likely to be HIV-positive than boys -- according to a recently released study financed by the Partnership for Child Development, the New York Times reports. Researchers affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Poverty Action Lab tested several HIV prevention methods over three years among 70,000 Kenyan students in the sixth through eighth grades in 328 schools, the Times reports. The interventions included providing girls with school uniforms at no charge; conducting classroom debates and essay-writing contests that asked students whether they should be taught about condom use and HIV prevention; and teaching a 40-minute course for eighth graders that discusses HIV transmission statistics and their implications and that shows a 10-minute animated video about the risks associated with relying on older men for money or gifts. The researchers did not administer HIV tests but rather used the number of pregnancies as a way to determine unprotected sexual activity. The study finds that when girls are given school uniforms at no charge, they are less likely to drop out of school and become pregnant. Uniforms are the "principal remaining economic barrier to education in Kenya," the Times reports. The researchers also found that the writing contests and debates resulted in an increased use of condoms without an increase in sexual activity. In addition, the study finds that after a year of receiving information and education about the risks associated with having sex with an older partner, girls are 65% less likely to become pregnant by an adult partner than those who do not participate in the course. The intervention strategies are "very, very cheap and could be scaled up easily," Esther Duflo, an economics professor at MIT and a member of the research team, said. The prevention methods that reduce sex with older men are "new and very intriguing," Warren Buckingham, Kenya coordinator for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said, adding, "That's an important finding, and we can absolutely take it on to refine our programs for girls." The researchers also looked at interventions which trained teachers in the country's HIV/AIDS curriculum -- which "provides general information about how the disease spreads and emphasizes the importance of abstinence until marriage" -- and found that the method had little or no impact on the students' knowledge about teenage pregnancy or condoms, according to the Times (Dugger, New York Times, 8/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.