Objectives: To investigate whether adverse childhood experiences are important determinants of sexual debut and HIV testing.
Design: Adolescents (age 10-16; N = 2089) from rural Malawi were interviewed in 2017-2018 for the baseline wave of a longitudinal study of childhood adversity and HIV risk.
Methods: Respondents were interviewed in their local language. Surveys captured 13 lifetime childhood adversities (using the Adverse Childhood Experience - International Questionnaire); sexual debut; and previous HIV testing. We used multivariate regression models to test whether adversity, measured both cumulatively and separately, predicted HIV risk.
Results: For each additional adversity, there was a significant rise in the odds of sexual debut (odds ratio 1.13, confidence interval 1.07-1.20) and HIV testing (odds ratio 1.10, confidence interval 1.04-1.16).
Conclusion: Preventing HIV among all young people necessitates a paradigm shift that recognizes the importance of early life social determinants in structuring HIV risk.