A Combination Intervention Addressing HIV Risk Behaviors Among Older Adolescent Girls Transitioning into Adulthood in Uganda

Aligned with the NIH priority of addressing disparities in new HIV infections and the UNAIDS call for implementing combination HIV prevention approaches, the proposed study will examine the impact and cost associated with Suubi4Her, an innovative combination intervention that aims to prevent HIV risk behaviors among 15-17 year-old girls living in communities heavily affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS in Uganda. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), family financial stress can compromise the support available to adolescents, with girls living in poverty exhibiting higher rates of risky sexual behavior increasing their vulnerability in acquiring HIV and other STIs. At the same time, internalizing mental health disorders such as depression and low self-esteem disproportionately affect girls and may be contributing to HIV risk behavior. Against that backdrop, support over and above health and sex education is needed to help adolescent girls in SSA successfully transition into young adulthood. The proposed study is informed by two previously tested interventions—asset-based matched savings accounts (YDA) and family strengthening through Multiple Family Groups (MFG), which have successfully been implemented with younger primary school-going adolescents.

Suubi4Her will test the theory that youth cognitive and behavioral change is influenced by economic stability while examining if enhanced intra-familial support and communication are needed to maintain positive behavioral health functioning and reinforce engagement in protective health behaviors. Nested within 42 secondary schools across four districts of Uganda heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS, 1,260 older girls (ages 15-17 at enrollment) will be randomly assigned (at school level) to one of three study conditions:

  1. Savings (Youth Development Accounts - YDA)- with a 1:1 incentive match rate—for education and microenterprise development
  2. Savings (YDA) + MFG intervention
  3. Control condition receiving standard health and sex education provided in schools

The intervention will be provided for 24 months. Assessments at baseline, 12, 24, and 36-months will include biomedical data to measure our primary sexual-risk outcome: proportion of girls' biologically confirmed STIs (Gonorrhea, Trichomonas, and Chlamydia); and secondary outcomes: the proportion of new HIV infections during the study period, and for HIV+ girls, viral load and CD4 as markers of ART adherence.

The study aims are to:

  1. Examine whether the Suubi4Her intervention is effective in protecting adolescent girls against known HIV risk factors (including economically-motivated sex and intimate partner violence).
  2. Elucidate the effects of the Suubi4Her intervention on behavioral health functioning (i.e., depression, self- efficacy and hopelessness) and examine the effects of these variables as potential mechanisms of change, mediating the relationship between each intervention and HIV risk reduction.
  3. Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of each intervention condition.

The study will also use the Child Depression Index and Beck Hopelessness Scale to examine the efficacy of interventions in improving mental health in this vulnerable population.


Claude Ann Mellins



Areas of Focus

  • Gender, Sexuality, and LGBTQ Health
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health