Understanding and responding to HIV risk in youngSouth African women: Clinical perspectives

S Afr Med J. 2015 Nov;105(11):952. doi: 10.7196/samj.2015.v105i11.10099.


Young women (15-24 years) contribute a disproportionate 24% to all new HIV infections in South Africa – more than four times that of their male peers. HIV risk in young women is driven by amplifying cycles of social, behavioural and biological vulnerability. Those most likely to acquire infection are typically from socioeconomically deprived households in high HIV-prevalence communities, have limited or no schooling, engage in transactional sex or other high-risk coping behaviours, and have a history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)and/or pregnancy. Despite the imperative to prevent HIV acquisition in young women, there is a dearth of evidence-based interventions to do so. However, there are several steps that healthcare workers can take to improve outcomes for this key population at the individual level.These include being able to identify high HIV-risk young women, ensuring that they receive the maximum social support they are eligible for, providing reliable and non-judgemental counselling on sexual and reproductive health and relationships, delivering contraceptives and screening and treating STIs in the context of accessible, youth-friendly services.