Introduction: Prevalence of HIV among young women in South Africa remains extremely high. Adolescent peer groups have been found to be an important influence on a range of health behaviours. The characteristics of young women's friendships might influence their sexual health and HIV risk via connections to sexual partners, norms around sexual initiation and condom use, or provision of social support. We investigated associations between young women's friendships and their Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2) and HIV infection status in rural South Africa.
Methods: Our study is a cross-sectional, egocentric network analysis. In 2011 to 2012, we tested 13- to 20-year-old young women for HIV and HSV-2, and collected descriptions of five friendships for each. We generated summary measures describing friend socio-demographic characteristics and the number of friends perceived to have had sex. We used logistic regression to analyse associations between friend characteristics and participant HIV and HSV-2 infection, excluding likely perinatal HIV infections.
Results: There were 2326 participants included in the study sample, among whom HIV and HSV-2 prevalence were 3.3% and 4.6% respectively. Adjusted for participant and friend socio-demographic characteristics, each additional friend at least one year older than the participant was associated with raised odds of HIV (odds ratio (OR) = 1.37, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.82) and HSV-2 (adjusted OR=1.41, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.69). Each additional friend perceived to have ever had sex also raised the odds of HIV (OR = 1.29, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.63) and HSV-2 (OR=1.18, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.35).
Discussion: We found good evidence that a greater number of older friends and friends perceived to have had sex were associated with increased risk for HSV-2 and HIV infection among young women.
Conclusions: The characteristics of young women's friendships could contribute to their risk of HIV infection. The extent to which policies or programmes influence age-mixing and young women's normative environments should be considered.
Keywords: HIV; HSV-2; South Africa; adolescents; friendships; peer influence; social networks; social norms; young women.
© 2017 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.