News / Africa

Fighting Poverty, Protecting Women from HIV

Girls in Malawi's Zomba district who took part in study to protect their health. (2010)
Girls in Malawi's Zomba district who took part in study to protect their health. (2010)
Joe DeCapua

Financially empowering young women in poor countries may help protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. A new study shows that addressing poverty can help prevent risky behavior.

Poverty, a lack of education and gender inequality make girls and young women more vulnerable. It happens when they turn to older men for financial help for themselves or their families. Men who may be infected with HIV or herpes.

The findings are based on a study of 13 to 22 year old women in the Zomba district of Malawi. At the start of the study none had ever been married.

“We knew that Malawi was a poor country with a high HIV problem particularly among adolescent girls and young women, especially in the south where we ended up doing our study. So we said, why don’t we start this little pilot experiment to see as a proof of concept whether small amounts of cash transfers can reduce the risk of getting infected?” said Dr. Berk Ozler, a senior economist at the World Bank, who took part in the research.

Education, he said, has been described as a “social vaccine” against HIV and other diseases. But many girls in the study were dropouts.

“A lot of times young girls will drop out of school very early, like age 14, 15, 16. And soon after that, their fertility, their child bearing starts and then they get married. And the earlier you’re getting married the older your husband or your sexual partners tend to be. That’s essentially the link toward unprotected – not necessarily risk per se – but unprotected sexual behavior in an environment where older men have a significant chance of being HIV positive,” said Ozler.

Sugar Daddies?

Sometimes, older men who are with much younger women are called sugar daddies. But the World Bank economist said that was not necessarily the case in the Malawi study.

“In the media, this kind of sugar daddy phenomena gets sensationalized a little bit. What we find is much more subtle. It’s that if you’re an 18, 19 year old girl and you need somebody to support you and your family, your age mates aren’t really able to do that because your age mates are as poor as you. But it’s the older guys who have a bit of money. So, when we’re talking about this kind of sugar daddy phenomenon, it’s really not that. It’s that you’re essentially dating out of your age cohort because of economic reasons,” he said.

If the young women had sex with men their own age, he said, they would have a very low risk of contracting HIV. Surveys in Malawi show the HIV prevalence rate among teenage boys is close to zero.

Little money, big difference

The study offered the girls and young women cash payments, perhaps 10 dollars a month. Some were just given the money with no conditions attached, while others were required to regularly attend school. There was some behavior change in those who received the money.

Ozler said, “Girls who were sexually active kept being sexually active. But they chose different partners. They dated their age mates, who are much less likely to be HIV positive. But on top of that they actually had much less sexual activity with them. Right, so it wasn’t like they’re abstaining, but they were having less sex. And we know both of those things are protective factors.”

The study showed these young women generally had extremely low HIV or herpes infection rates.

Ozler said more research is needed to determine if such a program would work in most poor countries. But he says it could be considered as part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent HIV infection.

Ozler was joined in the research by Dr. Sarah Baird of George Washington University; Professor Richard Garfein; and Dr. Craig McIntosh of the University of California at San Diego. The Study was published by the Lancet medical journal.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs