Background: HIV-infected youth in sub-Saharan Africa are less likely to initiate antiretroviral therapy (ART) than older adults.
Setting and methods: Adult (≥15 years) residents enumerated during a census in 32 communities in rural Kenya and Uganda named social contacts in 5 domains: health, money, emotional support, food, and free time. Named contacts were matched to other enumerated residents to build social networks among 150,395 adults; 90% were tested for HIV at baseline. Among youth (15-24 years) who were ART naive at baseline (2013-2014), we evaluated whether having ≥1 network contact who was HIV infected predicted ART initiation within 3 years and modification of this association by age and strength of contact, using logistic regression with robust standard errors.
Results: Among 1120 HIV-infected youth who were ART naive at baseline, 805 remained alive and community residents after 3 years. Of these, 270 (33.5%) named at least one baseline HIV-infected contact; 70% (569/805) subsequently initiated ART. Youth with ≥1 HIV-infected same-age baseline contact were more likely to initiate ART [adjusted odds ratio (aOR), 2.95; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.49 to 5.86] than those with no HIV-infected contact, particularly if the contact was a strong tie (named in >1 domain; aOR, 5.33; 95% CI: 3.34 to 8.52). When nonhousehold contacts were excluded, having an HIV-infected same age contact who was a strong tie remained associated with ART initiation (aOR, 2.81; 95% CI: 1.76 to 4.49).
Conclusions: Interventions that increase and strengthen existing social connections to other HIV-infected peers at the time of HIV diagnosis may increase ART initiation among HIV-infected youth.