Friday, 18 January 2008

A social vaccine

Children going to school in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

From the World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr. Creative Commons Licence.

A report from the London School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Witwatersrand gives details of a study carried out in rural areas in South Africa, looking at the sexual behaviour of young people aged 14 to 25 with particular attention whether there is any difference in HIV rates between school attenders and similar school non-attenders.

The findings are:

  • Both sexes in school reported fewer sexual partners than similar out-of-school people.
  • Girls in school reported greater condom use, less frequent sex and partners closer to their own ages.
  • The most striking result was that boys were much less likely to be HIV positive.

The leader of the team, Dr Hargreaves, says

Our study suggests that, in South Africa, being in school can shape young people's social networks, leading to less high-risk sexual behaviour and, therefore, lower rates of HIV infection. We also recently conducted a review of 36 studies across sub-Saharan Africa which came to the same conclusions - that across a number of countries, those with higher education may now be at lower risk of HIV infection, reversing previous trends. We need to accelerate efforts to increase access to education, including secondary education, if we are going to make an impact on this epidemic.

I haven't seen the full report, so I am presuming they took into account whether or not the students who were HIV positive didn't attend school because of that, rather than the other way around.

It is very encouraging that it is possible to add a "social vaccine", education, to the biomedical efforts to eradicate HIV/Aids.


  1. If these conclusions prove justified it would be a huge step - but surely just a drop in the ocean. Every little helps though.

  2. Am wondering whether children kept out of school are more vulnerable because of working conditions, sexual predation etc than those in school who will be in class/supervised for much of the time. Just a thought, and assume it is something they looked into. It may not be as simple as education = less risky behaviour. Very interesting.

  3. Dragonstar, yes a drop in the ocean in a way, but an encouragement to continue to promote education.
    Equiano, there are a few cause-effect factors I am left wondering about, though like you I do assume they have thought about them. You're right, it is interesting.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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