Reducing HIV risk for female migrants in sub-Saharan Africa

Previous research on migration and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa has primarily focused on male migrants' risk of HIV, despite the fact that equal or greater numbers of women are migrating in the region. And while studies that have examined the issue found higher risks and HIV prevalence among migrant compared to non-migrant women, little is known about how migration places women at increased risk of HIV.

Researchers from the UCSF Bixby Center aimed to bridge this gap by studying the factors that place migrant women in Kenya at a higher risk of HIV infection. They found that:

  • The circumstances that trigger migration – such as widowhood, disinheritance and gender-based violence – can increase women's risk of acquiring the virus.
  • Migrant women's options to earn a living, including transactional sex, place them at a high risk of HIV.
  • Women often migrate to locations with social contexts that facilitate multiple sexual partners and transactional sex.

The researchers stress that HIV prevention and treatment interventions tailored to migrant women are urgently needed. Such interventions should aim to preserve the positive aspects of mobility, such as women’s independence and improved socioeconomic status, while also reducing the high HIV risks among female migrants.