School Attendance Might Reduce HIV Risk Among Youth

Armen Hareyan's picture

Attending secondary schoolmight help reduce the risk of HIV among youth in rural South Africa,according to a study published in the February issue of the Journal ofEpidemiology and Community Health, the South African PressAssociation 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 among916 young men and 1,003 young women ages 14 to 25 in rural South Africa (SouthAfrican Press Association, 1/17). Researchers conducted face-to-faceinterviews with the participants to gather data on school attendance and HIVrisk characteristics. Knowledge of HIV/AIDS, communication about sex and HIVtesting were distributed evenly among participants both in and out of school.


The researchers found that among both sexes, those attending school reportedfewer sexual partners than those not attending school. Among femaleparticipants, 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.

Maleparticipants who attended school were significantly less likely to beHIV-positive than their peers who were not in school, the study found(Hargreaves et al., JECH, 1/17).

"Our study suggests that, in South Africa, being in school canshape young people's social networks, leading to less high-risk sexual behaviorand therefore, lower rates of HIV infection," Hargreaves said. Theresearchers also recently conducted a review of 36 studies across sub-Saharan Africa that "came to the same conclusions" asthe JECH study, he added. The review found that "across anumber of countries, those with higher education may now be at lower risk ofHIV infection, reversing previous trends," Hargreaves added.

Hargreaves also said that efforts aimed at changing social behavior can play animportant role in HIV prevention and should not be overlooked. "There is aneed to accelerate efforts to increase access to education, including secondaryeducation, if we are going to make an impact on this epidemic," he said.Hargreaves said he is encouraged that African governments, the Group of Eightindustrialized nations, the World Bank and others have committed to suchgoals (South African Press Association, 1/17).

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