Purpose: To evaluate the effectiveness of peer education when compared to teacher-led curricula in AIDS prevention programs conducted in schools in Rome, Italy.
Methods: Eighteen high schools were randomly assigned to one of two prevention programs: one led by teachers and the other by peer leaders. A sample of students attending the last 2 years (n = 1295) completed pre and post-intervention questionnaires. Changes in sexual behaviors, knowledge, prevention skills, risk perception and attitudes were first evaluated within each intervention group. Afterwards, changes in knowledge, prevention skills, risk perception, and attitudes total scale scores (post-test scores minus pre-test scores) were compared between the two groups, through linear regression models, in order to control for confounders, taking into account the within-school correlation in score changes. As for sexual behaviors, number of sexual partners and frequency of condom use in the 3 months before post-test were compared by intervention group through ordinal regression models, also taking into account behaviors reported before pre-test.
Results: For both groups, we observed significant improvements in skills, knowledge, attitudes and risk perception. The peer-led group showed a 6.7% (95% C.I. 1.9-11.5) scores greater improvement in knowledge, compared to the teacher-led group. In neither group were improvements observed in condom use or number of sexual partners.
Conclusions: The only apparent benefit of the peer-led intervention, compared to that led by teachers, was a greater improvement in knowledge of HIV. Neither of the interventions induced changes in sexual behavior. However, the role of possible biases and methodological problems must be considered when interpreting these results.