Poverty and poor parental support are driving girls into the hands of sugar daddies, which increases their risk of HIV infection.
Latest research findings released at the 7th South African Aids Conference taking in place in Durban show that if young girls can be offered financial support, coupled with guidance from teachers and parents, they would stay away from sugar daddies and subsequently reduce their chances of getting infected.
At present, girls between the age of 15 and 19 in South Africa are up to eight times more likely to be HIV positive than boys of the same age. Several social studies have identified sugar daddies and transactional sex as the main drivers behind the high prevalence of HIV among young girls.
Sharing the findings of various studies that have looked at intervention aimed at reducing HIV infection among adolescents, Professor Lucie Cluver said there was no silver bullet to preventing HIV infection among young girls.
“We need to look at a combination of interventions including cash incentives, positive parenting, good parental monitoring, support from teachers and offering children food at schools,” she said.
“Research conducted in various parts of the country has shown that if one intervention is introduced, the impact is not that great…
“In a case of a combined intervention of cash incentive and good parenting, the risk was reduced to 6%. When the interventions were increased to include school feeding [schemes] the risk was 1%,” Cluver explained.
Cluver also noted that child support grants or cash incentives also reduce the chances of girls dropping out of school.
“If girls remain in school their chances of getting into intergenerational relationships are slim and therefore their chances of getting infected with HIV also decrease.”
Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist who was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe, agreed.
“There is evidence that young girls who stay at school and complete matric have a seven-fold lower chance of acquiring HIV than those who drop out.”
“While we support investment in tertiary education, it is also important to invest in education so that we can retain young girls in the system and ensure that they complete schooling. When they finish matric, they should be HIV-free and also not pregnant,” she added.