Mobility linked with higher-risk sexual behaviors in Kenya and Uganda

Despite progress in HIV treatment and prevention in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s still challenging to engage highly mobile populations. It’s clear that reaching these populations is important—the early HIV epidemic spread along major transportation routes. There are still knowledge gaps about mobile populations that make it difficult to address structural barriers to HIV prevention and treatment effectively. New research from Carol Camlin and colleagues aims to better understand these barriers by studying how mobility affects risk behaviors.

Through interviews with people in Kenya and Uganda, researchers found that forms of mobility are linked with higher-risk behaviors, and there are pronounced gender differences. Women were less likely to travel for labor than men. However, women who had traveled in the last 6 months for work were more likely to have had more than one sexual partner within a month. For men, the opposite was true—concurrent sexual relationships were linked with traveling for reasons other than work. Having multiple partners within a month was most common in Kenya, followed by southwestern and then eastern Uganda. Condom use was rare, with just under 10% of people saying they always used condoms within a one-month period.

While migration and mobility for any reason is associated with higher-risk sexual behavior, the types of mobility and their relationship to risk is highly gendered. While men were more mobile overall, the links between mobility and sexual risk behaviors were stronger in women. This has major implications for how HIV prevention and treatment interventions are designed, and points to the need for gender-specific interventions.