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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Intervention in Uganda Aims to Stem HIV Through Economic Empowerment for Women

Nearly 1,000 women engaged in sex work (WESW) in Uganda are being provided with savings accounts, financial literacy skills and vocational training in a study currently underway by researchers from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Investigators hope that improving the women’s financial situations and job prospects will result in less sexual risk-taking and limit the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), with Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda accounting for 48 percent of new infections. Women in sex work are at increased risk, and poverty is the most common reason for sex work.

The randomized control trial is recruiting 990 WESW to participate in the five-year study, which is funded by a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. One third of the women will be given traditional HIV risk-reduction training. Another third will also receive a savings account that will match the savings that women deposit, along with financial literacy training on subjects like budgeting and asset building. The last third will receive vocational training as well.

“When WESW have access to alternative forms of employment and start earning formal income outside of sex work, they may become motivated to explore other sources of income and ultimately reduce their exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” said Dr. Fred M. Ssewamala, William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor at the Brown School and a principal investigator for the study. “We hope the study findings will advance our understanding of how best to implement gender-specific HIV prevention globally.”

The study was described in a paper published August 17 in BMC Women’s Health.

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