Objectives: To assess whether educational status is associated with HIV-1 infection in developing countries by conducting a systematic review of published literature.
Methods: Articles were identified through electronic databases and hand searching key journals. Studies containing appropriately analysed individual level data on the association between educational attainment and HIV-1 status in general population groups were included.
Results: Twenty-seven articles with appropriately analysed results from general population groups in developing countries were identified, providing information on only six countries. Large studies in four areas in Africa showed an increased risk of HIV-1 infection among the more educated, whilst among 21-year-old Thai army conscripts, longer duration of schooling was strongly protective against HIV infection. The association between education and schooling in Africa was stronger in rural areas and in older cohorts, but was similar in men and women. Serial prevalence studies showed little change in the association between schooling and HIV over time in Tanzania, but greater decreases in HIV prevalence among the more educated in Uganda, Zambia and Thailand.
Conclusions: In Africa, higher educational attainment is often associated with a greater risk of HIV infection. However, the pattern of new HIV infections may be changing towards a greater burden among less educated groups. In Thailand those with more schooling remain at lower risk of HIV infection.