Systematic review of sex work interventions in sub-Saharan Africa: examining combination prevention approaches

Trop Med Int Health. 2017 Aug;22(8):971-993. doi: 10.1111/tmi.12890. Epub 2017 May 24.


Objective: The incidence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections is disproportionately high among sex workers (SW). We aimed to update the evidence on the effectiveness of SW interventions in sub-Saharan Africa and to provide more insights into combination prevention.

Methods: The Systematic review followed PRISMA guidelines in a search of PUBMED and POPLINE for peer-reviewed literature published between 1 January 2000 and 22 July 2016 (registration number on PROSPERO: CRD42016042529). We considered cohort interventions, randomised controlled trials and cross-sectional surveys of SW programmes. A framework was used in the description and mapping of intervention to desired outcomes.

Results: Twenty-six papers(reporting on 25 studies) were included. A strategy that empowered peer educator leaders to steer community activities showed a twofold increase in coverage of behaviour change communication and utilisation of health facility among SW. Brief alcohol harm reduction effort demonstrated a significant effect on sexual violence and engagement in sex trading. A risk reduction counselling intervention among drug-injecting SW showed an effect on alcohol, substance use and engagement in sex work. No study on a promising intervention like PrEP among SWs was found. We observed that interventions that combined some structural components, biomedical and behavioural strategies tend to accumulate more desired outcomes.

Conclusion: The evidence base that can be considered in intervention designs to prevent HIV in SW in SSA is vast. The health sector should consider interventions to reduce binge alcohol intake and intravenous drug use among sex workers. Programmes should staunchly consider multicomponent approaches that explore community-based structural approaches.

Keywords: Afrique subsaharienne; human immunodeficiency virus prevention; intervenciones multicomponente revisión; interventions multi-composantes; multicomponent Interventions; prevención del VIH; prévention du VIH; review; revue; sex work; sub-Saharan Africa; trabajo sexual; travail du sexe; África subsahariana.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Counseling
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Sex Work*
  • Sex Workers*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control*


  • Anti-HIV Agents