School Attendance Might Reduce HIV Risk Among Youth in Rural South Africa, Study Says
Attending secondary school might help reduce the risk of HIV among youth in rural South Africa, according to a study published in the February issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the South African Press Association reports.
James Hargreaves of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit and colleagues from the Wits School of Public Health examined the behavior and HIV prevalence among 916 young men and 1,003 young women ages 14 to 25 in rural South Africa (South African Press Association, 1/17). Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with the participants to gather data on school attendance and HIV risk characteristics. Knowledge of HIV/AIDS, communication about sex and HIV testing were distributed evenly among participants both in and out of school.
The researchers found that among both sexes, those attending school reported fewer sexual partners than those not attending school. Among female participants, school attendance was associated with safer-sex practices, according to the study. Fewer female students reported having:
- Partners more than three years older than themselves;
- Sex more than five times with a partner; and
- Unprotected sex during the past year.
"Our study suggests that, in South Africa, being in school can shape young people's social networks, leading to less high-risk sexual behavior and therefore, lower rates of HIV infection," Hargreaves said. The researchers also recently conducted a review of 36 studies across sub-Saharan Africa that "came to the same conclusions" as the JECH study, he added. The review found that "across a number of countries, those with higher education may now be at lower risk of HIV infection, reversing previous trends," Hargreaves added.
Hargreaves also said that efforts aimed at changing social behavior can play an important role in HIV prevention and should not be overlooked. "There is a need to accelerate efforts to increase access to education, including secondary education, if we are going to make an impact on this epidemic," he said. Hargreaves said he is encouraged that African governments, the Group of Eight industrialized nations, the World Bank and others have committed to such goals (South African Press Association, 1/17).
The study is available online. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.