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HIV infection and related risk behaviors: does school support level the playing field between orphans and nonorphans in Zimbabwe?
Authors: Winnie Luseno, Lei Zhang, Simbarashe Rusakaniko, Hyunsan Cho, and Denise Hallfors
Source: AIDS Care, 1:1-5. [Epub ahead of print]; DOI: 10.1080/09540121.2015.1036726
Topic(s): HIV/AIDS
Country: Africa
Published: MAY 2015
Abstract: Research is limited on whether providing school support to female adolescent orphans mitigates their HIV risk disadvantage compared to other female adolescents. This paper examines 2011 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) HIV-related biomarker and behavior data for orphaned and nonorphaned rural adolescent females to compare findings from a similar sample participating in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) testing school support as HIV prevention. HIV status, marriage, pregnancy, sexual debut, school dropout, years of schooling, and socioeconomic status were analyzed with the combined data-sets. Bivariate analyses compared variables between RCT comprehensive intervention and delayed partial intervention conditions, and between ZDHS orphan and nonorphan groups. Multivariable analyses included a series of group comparisons as follows: ZDHS orphans vs. ZDHS nonorphans; RCT orphans in each condition vs. ZDHS nonorphans; RCT orphans in each condition vs. ZDHS orphans. Analyses methods accounted for the complex survey sampling design within each data-set. A total of 751 observations were included. All orphan groups had consistently higher odds of HIV infection than ZDHS nonorphans. ZDHS orphans had higher odds of marriage, pregnancy, and sexual debut than ZDHS nonorphans. Comprehensive intervention participants had lower odds of marriage, sexual debut, and school dropout than ZDHS nonorphans. RCT participants in both conditions had lower odds of marriage, sexual debut, and school dropout than ZDHS orphans. The findings indicate that orphans are at a distinct disadvantage to HIV risk compared to nonorphans, and much of this is likely related to vertical transmission. We found no evidence that provision of school fees to orphans will reduce their risk of HIV infection relative to nonorphans but further evidence that such programs may reduce risk behaviors including early sexual debut, child marriage, and school dropout. Further research is needed to determine how these programs can be sustainably scaled-up in resource-limited settings.