Health-related quality of life of female sex workers living with HIV in South Africa: a cross-sectional study

J Int AIDS Soc. 2022 Feb;25(2):e25884. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25884.


Introduction: Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) is an important HIV outcome beyond viral suppression. However, there are limited data characterizing HRQoL of key populations, including female sex workers (FSW) living with HIV.

Methods: We used baseline data (22 June 2018-23 March 2020) of FSW who were diagnosed with HIV and enrolled into a randomized trial in Durban, South Africa. HRQoL information was collected by a generic preference-accompanied tool with five domains (EQ-5D), and summarized into a single score (range 0-1), which represents health utility. We employed multivariable beta regression models to identify determinants of HRQoL and to estimate subgroup-specific HRQoL score. Using external estimates of life expectancy and population size, we estimated the number of quality adjusted life years reduced among FSW living with HIV in South Africa associated with violence and drug use.

Results: Of 1,363 individuals (mean age: 32.4 years; mean HRQoL score: 0.857) in our analysis, 62.6% used drugs, 61.3% experienced physical or sexual violence and 64.6% self-reported taking antiretroviral treatment (ART). The following were associated with a reduction in the average marginal HRQoL score: older age (per decade: 0.018 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.008, 0.027]), drug use (0.022 [0.007, 0.036]), experience of violence (0.024 [0.010, 0.038]) and moderate (vs. no) level of internalized stigma (0.023 [0.004, 0.041]). Current ART use was associated with a 0.015-point (-0.001, 0.031) increase in the HRQoL score. The estimated mean (95% CI) HRQoL scores ranged from 0.838 (0.816, 0.860) for FSW who used drugs, experienced violence and were not on ART; to 0.899 (0.883, 0.916) for FSW who did not use drugs nor experience violence and were on ART. Our results can be translated into a reduction in 37,184 and 39,722 quality adjusted life years related to drug use and experience of violence, respectively, in South Africa.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate the association of ART with higher HRQoL among FSW and the need to further address structural risks, including drug use, violence and stigma. Population-specific estimates of HRQoL score can be further used to calculate quality-adjusted life years in economic evaluations of individual and structural interventions addressing the needs of FSW living with HIV.

Clinical trial registration: NCT03500172 (April 17, 2018).

Keywords: HIV; drug use; female sex worker; health utility; health-related quality of life; stigma; violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Sex Workers*
  • South Africa / epidemiology


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents

Associated data