Adolescents and young adults in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are particularly vulnerable to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) infection. Adolescents orphaned as a direct result of HIV/AIDS are at an elevated risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. However, limited empirical evidence exists on HIV knowledge and prevention programs, especially those designed to address HIV information gaps among adolescents. This study evaluates the effect of a peer mentorship program provided in addition to other supportive services on HIV/AIDS knowledge, beliefs, and prevention attitudes, among school-going orphaned adolescents in southern Uganda. We utilize data from the Bridges to the Future Study, a 5-year longitudinal randomized experimental study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Out of the 1410 adolescents enrolled in the study (average age = 12.7 at study initiation), 855 of them participated in a nine-session, curriculum based peer mentorship program. We analyzed data collected at baseline and 12-months post intervention initiation. The results from bivariate and regression analysis indicate that, controlling for socioeconomic characteristics, adolescents who participated in a peer mentorship program were more likely than non-participants to report increased scores on HIV/AIDS knowledge(b = .86, 95%CI = .47 - 1.3, p ≤ .001); better scores on desired HIV/AIDS-related beliefs (b = .29, 95%CI = .06 - .52, p ≤ .01); and better scores on HIV/AIDS prevention attitudes (b = .76, 95%CI = .16 - 1.4, p ≤ .01). Overall, the study findings point to the potential role a of peer mentorship program in promoting the much-desired HIV/AIDS knowledge, beliefs, and prevention attitudes among orphaned adolescents. Future programs and policies that support AIDS-orphaned adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa should consider incorporating peer mentoring programs that provide correct, age, and culturally appropriate HIV information to help protect orphaned adolescents and reduce the risk of HIV infections.
Keywords: Uganda; bridges to the future; orphaned adolescents; peer mentorship; sub-Saharan Africa.