The effectiveness of sex education and HIV education interventions in schools in developing countries

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Douglas Kirby,a Angela Obasi,b & B.A Larisa

Objective To review the impact of sex education and HIV education interventions in schools in developing countries on both risk behaviours for HIV and the psychosocial factors that affect them.

Methods We conducted a systematic review. Searches identified studies in developing countries that evaluated interventions using either experimental or strong quasi-experimental designs and measured the impact of the intervention on sexual risk behaviours. Each study was summarized and coded, and the results were tabulated by type of intervention.

Findings Twenty-two intervention evaluations met the inclusion criteria: 17 were based on a curriculum and 5 were not, and 19 were implemented primarily by adults and 3 by peers. These 22 interventions significantly improved 21 out of 55 sexual behaviours measured. Only one of the interventions (a non-curriculum-based peer-led intervention) increased any measure of reported sexual intercourse; 7 interventions delayed the reported onset of sex; 3 reduced the reported number of sexual partners; and 1 reduced the reported frequency of sexual activity. Furthermore, 16 of the 22 interventions significantly delayed sex, reduced the frequency of sex, decreased the number of sexual partners, increased the use of condoms or contraceptives or reduced the incidence of unprotected sex. Of the 17 curriculum-based interventions, 13 had most of the characteristics believed to be important according to research in developed and developing countries and were taught by adults. Of these 13 studies, 11 significantly improved one or more reported sexual behaviours, and the remaining 2 showed non-significant improvements in reported sexual behaviour. Among these 13 studies, interventions led by both teachers and other adults had strong evidence of positive impact on reported behaviour. Of the 5 non-curriculum-based interventions, 2 of 4 adult-led and the 1 peer-led intervention improved one or more sexual behaviours.

a ETR Associates 4 Carbonero Way, Scotts Valley, CA 95061, USA. Correspondence should be sent to Dr Kirby (email: [email protected]). b Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place Liverpool, L3 5QA England.

Conclusions A large majority of school-based sex education and HIV education interventions reduced reported risky sexual behaviours in developing countries. The curriculum-based interventions having the characteristics of effective interventions in the developed and developing world should be implemented more widely. All types of school-based interventions need additional rigorous evaluation, and more rigorous evaluations of peer-led and non-curriculum-based interventions are necessary before they can be widely recommended.

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