Psychosocial interventions for improving engagement in care and health and behavioural outcomes for adolescents and young people living with HIV: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Int AIDS Soc. 2021 Aug;24(8):e25741. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25741.


Introduction: Adolescents and young people comprise a growing proportion of new HIV infections globally, yet current approaches do not effectively engage this group, and adolescent HIV-related outcomes are the poorest among all age groups. Providing psychosocial interventions incorporating psychological, social, and/or behavioural approaches offer a potential pathway to improve engagement in care and health and behavioural outcomes among adolescents and young people living with HIV (AYPLHIV).

Methods: A systematic search of all peer-reviewed papers published between January 2000 and July 2020 was conducted through four electronic databases (Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, PubMed and Scopus). We included randomized controlled trials evaluating psychosocial interventions aimed at improving engagement in care and health and behavioural outcomes of AYPLHIV aged 10 to 24 years.

Results and discussion: Thirty relevant studies were identified. Studies took place in the United States (n = 18, 60%), sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe) and Southeast Asia (Thailand). Outcomes of interest included adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART), ART knowledge, viral load data, sexual risk behaviours, sexual risk knowledge, retention in care and linkage to care. Overall, psychosocial interventions for AYPLHIV showed important, small-to-moderate effects on adherence to ART (SMD = 0.3907, 95% CI: 0.1059 to 0.6754, 21 studies, n = 2647) and viral load (SMD = -0.2607, 95% CI -04518 to -0.0696, 12 studies, n = 1566). The psychosocial interventions reviewed did not demonstrate significant impacts on retention in care (n = 8), sexual risk behaviours and knowledge (n = 13), viral suppression (n = 4), undetectable viral load (n = 5) or linkage to care (n = 1) among AYPLHIV. No studies measured transition to adult services. Effective interventions employed various approaches, including digital and lay health worker delivery, which hold promise for scaling interventions in the context of COVID-19.

Conclusions: This review highlights the potential of psychosocial interventions in improving health outcomes in AYPLHIV. However, more research needs to be conducted on interventions that can effectively reduce sexual risk behaviours of AYPLHIV, as well as those that can strengthen engagement in care. Further investment is needed to ensure that these interventions are cost-effective, sustainable and resilient in the face of resource constraints and global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: adherence to ART; adolescent HIV; adolescents and young people; engagement in care; psychosocial interventions; sexual risk behaviour; viral load; viral suppression.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active
  • COVID-19
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Participation / psychology*
  • Psychosocial Intervention*
  • Risk-Taking
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sexual Behavior
  • South Africa
  • Treatment Adherence and Compliance / psychology*
  • Viral Load
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents