Malawi, Tanzania: Cash Payments Reduce HIV Risk -- World Bank Studies

Cash incentives can encourage young people to stay in school and avoid unsafe sex, ultimately producing "significantly lower" rates of HIV, suggest two studies released Sunday at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

"Programs like these could become an important missing part of effective HIV-prevention strategies," said World Bank Senior Economist Berk Ozler. Ozler conducted the study with scientists from George Washington University and the University of California.

In the first study, researchers paid young Malawi girls who maintained monthly school attendance of at least 75 percent. Among girls who met that threshold, HIV infection rates were cut by 60 percent compared to an unpaid control group.

"Girls who received payments not only had less sex, but when they did, they tended to choose younger, safer partners," said a World Bank statement.

The girls who received the cash transfers tended to avoid "transactional sex" with older men, who are more likely to be HIV-positive, the researchers said.

In the second study, researchers in Tanzania paid young men and women to avoid unsafe sex for 12 months. Compared to a control group, the study group experienced a 25 percent reduction in STDs.

"Existing prevention strategies have had limited success, so we have to look for creative new approaches to help people change their behavior and finally stop and then reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic," said World Bank Senior Economist Damien de Walque, who conducted the study with colleagues from the University of California and the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania.