Scaling up cash transfers for HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women

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Scaling up cash transfers for HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women

18 August 2014

Now a 19-year-old university student in South Africa, Noxolo Myeketsi started receiving a social welfare grant in 2005. Part of a state-run programme to assist poor households, the cash transfers allowed her to stay in school and her grandmother to buy food and pay their bills.

The grant changed Noxolo’s life for the better. Other girls turned to having sex, often with older men, in exchange for basic needs, and potentially exposed themselves to sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

“I believe that without the grant assistance, I would not have been able to make healthy decisions in my life. Maybe I would have ended up being a sugar daddy’s girl, like others from my area, or ended up contracting HIV,” Noxolo said.

Social protection schemes, including financial incentives, can make a difference in a number of ways. The World Bank reports that, globally, there is strong evidence that cash transfers improve the education, health and lifelong income of beneficiaries. 

“Cash transfer programmes work for HIV prevention and a host of other human development outcomes as well, and they are scalable,” said David Wilson, Director of the World Bank’s Global HIV/AIDS Program.

Studies conducted in South Africa show that small cash grants provided to poor households allow teenage girls to make safer sexual choices and can significantly reduce the number of new HIV infections. When psychosocial care and support are added to the cash, the results for girls are even better.

At the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) meeting held in Geneva in July a thematic session was organized on addressing the social economic drivers of HIV through social protection, at which Noxolo spoke about the positive impact grants can have.

Following up on the PCB meeting, UNAIDS and the World Bank pledged to assist governments in the process of scaling up social protection programmes, including cash transfers, for HIV prevention in eastern and southern Africa, covering Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

“It is befitting that South Africa is the centre of the initiative because the country accounts for 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s new HIV infections, 18% of the global HIV burden and has one of the world largest social protection programmes,” said Benjamin Ali, UNAIDS Country Director for South Africa.

Countries and partners will be urged to collaborate in a comprehensive review of social protection systems. Proposals to make such systems HIV sensitive include modifying age bands and other inclusion criteria to ensure that the groups most affected and at risk of HIV infection are covered, providing some cash directly to girls and young women and linking cash incentives to their adherence to HIV prevention and treatment programmes.