Young African brides face greater HIV risk than single women

Posted: 12 March 2004

Teenage brides in some parts of Africa are contracting HIV at a faster rate than sexually active single girls in the same locales, according to the director of UNICEF and other United Nations officials at an international AIDS conference in Atlanta (February 28).

The studies, the first of their kind, compare the health of married and single young women in Kisumu, Kenya, and Ndola, Zambia. Officials said that young brides in those towns have apparently contracted HIV from their husbands, who are typically much older and who acquired the virus before marriage. In contrast, single young women were found to have boyfriends closer to their age, who had lower HIV rates than the married men.

Part of the fault lies, officials said, in not having HIV-prevention programmes geared to married people.

"We have known for a long time that marriage in and of itself is not protective for women who have partners who have been or continue to be at risk," said Dr Catherine Hankins, chief scientific adviser to the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS. "The striking finding here is that among 15- to 19-year-old girls who are sexually active in these two settings, the fact of being married carries significantly higher risk - in part because of the increased age differential between spouses and in part because condom use in marriage has not been promoted."

Source: Lawrence Altman, New York Times, Feb. 29 reported in UN Wire 01/Mar/04.