motivating factors

Paying People Not to Get HIV … Works?

More interesting news out of Vienna’s International AIDS Conference: Cash payments to young adults in African countries showed “significant” drops HIV transmission rates. How come?

Because scoring cash — provided by the World Bank, which funded the studies — is often one reason young women have sex in the first place: To secure material luxuries from their male partners. So in Tanzania, girls paid to avoid unsafe sex weren’t missing out on the financial benefits of sleeping with men.

And in Malawi, young girls were paid to regularly attend school. There, too, HIV rates dropped. “Girls who received payments not only had less sex, but when they did, they tended to choose younger, safer partners,” the World Bank says. AFP continues:

Cash transfers, the institution said, enabled a significant drop in what is called “transactional sex” among girls and young women who trade intercourse for assistance, gifts or money. Schoolgirls who received payment appeared to avoid older, wealthier men who are much more likely to be HIV positive than schoolboys, according to the study. “Programs like these could become an important missing part of effective HIV-prevention strategies,” said Berk Ozler, a senior economist with the World Bank’s Development Research Group, who conducted the study with researchers from George Washington University and the University of California.

Ozler said the findings suggest that “empowering girls financially can lead to reduced risk — not just by reducing their sexual activity or practicing safer sex, but also by enabling them to choose partners who are less likely to be infected with HIV in the first place.” In Tanzania, meanwhile, a 12-month cash payment scheme for both young men and women to avoid unsafe sex and prevent a multitude of curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) found a 25 percent drop compared to a control group.

I’m a little bit soured by the idea of handing people cash as a way to teach them not to have unsafe sex. But maybe it’s not really “teaching”; it’s “motivating.” But it’s a strategy used elsewhere, Europe and the U.S. included, to some remarkable albeit unsettling results.