OBJECTIVE: To assess the effectiveness of a community-based HIV prevention intervention for adolescents in terms of its impact on (1) HIV and Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) incidence and on rates of unintended pregnancy and (2) reported sexual behaviour, knowledge and attitudes.
METHODS: Cluster randomised trial of a multi-component HIV prevention intervention for adolescents based in rural Zimbabwe. Thirty communities were selected and randomised in 2003 to early or deferred intervention implementation. A baseline bio-behavioural survey was conducted among 6791 secondary school pupils (86% of eligibles) prior to intervention implementation.
RESULTS: Baseline prevalences were 0.8% (95% CI: 0.6-1.0) for HIV and 0.2% (95% CI: 0.1-0.3%) for HSV-2. Four girls (0.12%) were pregnant. There was excellent balance between study arms. Orphans who made up 35% of the cohort were at increased risk of HIV [age-sex adjusted odds ratio 3.4 (95% CI: 1.7-6.5)]. 11.9% of young men and 2.9% of young women reported that they were sexually active (P < 0.001); however, there were inconsistencies in the sexual behaviour data. Girls were less likely to know about reproductive health issues than boys (P < 0.001) and were less likely to have used and to be able to access condoms (P < 0.001).
CONCLUSION: This is one of the first rigorous evaluations of a community-based HIV prevention intervention for young people in southern Africa. The low rates of HIV suggest that the intervention was started before this population became sexually active. Inconsistency and under-reporting of sexual behaviour re-emphasise the importance of using externally validated measures of sexual risk reduction in behavioural intervention studies.