(HealthDay News) – Financially empowering school-aged girls in Africa may reduce the likelihood of infection by HIV and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), according to a study published online Feb. 15 in The Lancet.

Sarah J. Baird, PhD, from George Washington University in Washington, DC, and colleagues randomly assigned 1,289 never-married women in Malawi (13–22 years old) to receive monthly cash payments of US$1–US$5 plus US$4–US$10 for the parents, or nothing. The group receiving cash payments was further randomly assigned to receive conditional payments (school attendance required) or unconditional payments (no attendance required). Prevalence of HIV and HSV-2 at 18 months was assessed by intention-to-treat analyses.

After 18 months, the researchers found that the cash payment group as a whole had a significant reduction in weighted HIV prevalence (1.2% vs. 3%; adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.36) and weighted HSV-2 prevalence (0.7% vs. 3%; aOR, 0.24). The conditional and unconditional payment groups had similar prevalence of HIV and HSV-2. Payments had no impact on women who had already dropped out of school at the beginning of the study.

“Our findings suggest that financially empowering school-aged girls might have beneficial effects on their sexual and reproductive health,” Baird and colleagues conclude. “Our results indicate that cash transfer programs could be attractive to policy makers in sub-Saharan Africa when they consider the full array of benefits that they might provide.”

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