Researchers call for interventions to support HIV/AIDS prevention among University Students

Researchers at Makerere University College of Health Sciences have given recommendations on how the education and health sectors can support HIV/AIDS prevention among students.

The researchers advised that the health sector should develop communication strategies and materials specific to university students and increase support to provide youth-friendly HIV prevention services at universities. The education sector working with University management should include: life skill programs during orientation of new students; HIVST delivery through peers and freshman orientations; Increase sensitization & access to PEP/PrEP by high-risk students; and update and disseminate institutional HIV policies.

The recommendations were made at a dissemination meeting for a study titled ‘HIV risk and factors associated with use of novel prevention interventions among female students at Makerere University’ held on the 30th September 2022 at the Food Science & Technology Hall, Makerere University Campus. The study funded by Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research & Innovations Fund (MakRIF) was conducted by Dr. Lorraine Oriokot (Principal Investigator), Dr. Ivan Segawa, Dr. Sabrina Bakeera-Kitaka, Dr. Andrew Mujugira and Ms. Sharon Okello.

The objectives of the study were: to determine the proportion of female students at high risk of HIV; and to determine the factors associated with the use of newer HIV prevention methods, which are HIV self-testing (HIVST); Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); and Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

A total of 483 female students with an average age of 22 years completed the survey. The results and findings of the study were:

  • Behavioural characteristics (12% of the respondents were in multiple sexual relationships; 21% of the respondents had a partner ≥ 10 years from their age; 29% of the respondents used emergency contraceptive (in the past 6 months); 21% of the respondents had never tested for HIV; and 10% of the respondents believed that they were at high risk for HIV)
  • The study considered a person was high risk if they: Had a partner who was HIV positive; Had multiple sexual relationships, anal or transactional sex; Used drugs especially injectable drugs; Had 2 or more sexually transmitted episodes in one year; Were pregnant or breast feeding; Were or had partners who sex workers, fishermen, long-distance truck driver, boda-boda rider, or army officers
  • Overall, 21% students were deemed high risk for HIV; 19% of students had ever used HIV self-test kits; 64% had ever heard of oral HIVST; 93% were willing to use HIVST; HIVST was more likely to be used by older students; HIVST can bridge the HIV testing gaps among students
  • 80% had ever tested for HIV far below the global targets of 95%; Self-test kits are freely available at the University Hospital; Test kits can be purchased over-the-counter in pharmacies
  • For PEP it was found that: 3% of students had ever used PEP; 9% among those eligible for PEP; 70% had ever heard of PEP; 65% were willing to use PEP; PEP use was linked to having a partner and high-self risk perception; PEP is currently the only way to reduce the risk of HIV infection in an individual who has been exposed to HIV; PEP is available at Makerere  University Hospital at no cost
  • For PrEP it was found that: 1% of students had ever used PrEP; 2% among high-risk students; 45% had ever heard of PrEP; 52% were willing to use PrEP; PrEP has been linked with decreased new infections of HIV; PrEP is currently available as oral tablets. Vaginal rings and injectable forms are being tested for wide roll out; and PrEP is available at KCCA health facilities and facilities offering HIV care.