Sex in the shadow of HIV: A systematic review of prevalence, risk factors, and interventions to reduce sexual risk-taking among HIV-positive adolescents and youth in sub-Saharan Africa

PLoS One. 2017 Jun 5;12(6):e0178106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178106. eCollection 2017.


Background: Evidence on sexual risk-taking among HIV-positive adolescents and youth in sub-Saharan Africa is urgently needed. This systematic review synthesizes the extant research on prevalence, factors associated with, and interventions to reduce sexual risk-taking among HIV-positive adolescents and youth in sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods: Studies were located through electronic databases, grey literature, reference harvesting, and contact with researchers. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were followed. Quantitative studies that reported on HIV-positive participants (10-24 year olds), included data on at least one of eight outcomes (early sexual debut, inconsistent condom use, older partner, transactional sex, multiple sexual partners, sex while intoxicated, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy), and were conducted in sub-Saharan Africa were included. Two authors piloted all processes, screened studies, extracted data independently, and resolved any discrepancies. Due to variance in reported rates and factors associated with sexual risk-taking, meta-analyses were not conducted.

Results: 610 potentially relevant titles/abstracts resulted in the full text review of 251 records. Forty-two records (n = 35 studies) reported one or multiple sexual practices for 13,536 HIV-positive adolescents/youth from 13 sub-Saharan African countries. Seventeen cross-sectional studies reported on individual, relationship, family, structural, and HIV-related factors associated with sexual risk-taking. However, the majority of the findings were inconsistent across studies, and most studies scored <50% in the quality checklist. Living with a partner, living alone, gender-based violence, food insecurity, and employment were correlated with increased sexual risk-taking, while knowledge of own HIV-positive status and accessing HIV support groups were associated with reduced sexual risk-taking. Of the four intervention studies (three RCTs), three evaluated group-based interventions, and one evaluated an individual-focused combination intervention. Three of the interventions were effective at reducing sexual risk-taking, with one reporting no difference between the intervention and control groups.

Conclusion: Sexual risk-taking among HIV-positive adolescents and youth is high, with inconclusive evidence on potential determinants. Few known studies test secondary HIV-prevention interventions for HIV-positive youth. Effective and feasible low-cost interventions to reduce risk are urgently needed for this group.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Safe Sex / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Young Adult