A Mobile Intervention to Link Young Female Entertainment Workers in Cambodia to Health and Gender-Based Violence Services: Randomized Controlled Trial

J Med Internet Res. 2022 Jan 4;24(1):e27696. doi: 10.2196/27696.


Background: Female entertainment workers (FEWs) in Cambodia experience a greater prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), psychological distress, substance abuse, and gender-based violence (GBV) than the general female population. Reaching FEWs with health education and linking them to services has been difficult because of their hidden and stigmatized status.

Objective: This study evaluated the efficacy of the Mobile Link intervention in improving FEWs' health by engaging and connecting them to existing HIV, sexual and reproductive health, and GBV services.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted between March 2018 and June 2019 in the capital city and 3 other provinces in Cambodia. FEWs in the intervention arm received automated twice-weekly Short Message Service messages and voice messages with health information and direct links to outreach workers. The control group received the existing standard care, including free HIV and STI counseling and testing and a toll-free helpline staffed by trained counselors. We used a stratified random sampling method to select participants from 5 study sites in the 4 selected provinces. Initially, we randomly selected 600 participants from a list of 4000 FEWs by age group (18-24 and 25-30 years) and study site using a random number generator and enrolled them in person. The primary outcome measures included self-reported HIV and STI testing, condom use, and contraceptive use assessed through a face-to-face structured interview. We also measured secondary outcomes, including contact with outreach workers, escorted referral service use, forced drinking, and GBV experiences. Intervention effects were modeled using repeated measures, multilevel mixed-effects logistic regression.

Results: A total of 1118 participants were recruited and enrolled in the study. We included 218 FEWs in the intervention arm and 170 FEWs in the control arm in the per protocol analyses after removing 730 dropouts. Evidence of positive intervention effects was detected for the following secondary outcomes: contacting an outreach worker (at 30 weeks: adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 3.29, 95% CI 1.28-8.47), receiving an escorted referral (at 30 weeks: AOR 2.86, 95% CI 1.09-7.52; at 60 weeks: AOR 8.15, 95% CI 1.65-40.25), and never being forced to drink at work (at 60 weeks: AOR 3.95, 95% CI 1.62-9.60). Over time, no significant differences between intervention and control groups were observed for any primary outcomes in the fully adjusted models.

Conclusions: The Mobile Link intervention effectively connected FEWs with outreach workers and escorted referrals but did not show an effect on primary outcomes. Reduced forced drinking at work was also significantly more extensive in the intervention group than in the control group. Longer-term messaging may increase access to services and impact FEWs' health outcomes in the future.

Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT03117842; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03117842.

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.1186/s13063-018-2614-7.

Keywords: HIV; female sex workers; gender-based violence; linkage to services; low- and middle-income countries; mHealth; sexual and reproductive health; sexually transmitted infection.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cambodia
  • Female
  • Gender-Based Violence* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Sex Workers*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Health*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03117842