Friendship networks and HIV risk among young women in South Africa

25 January 2017
Sephy Valuks

Join us for a free webinar on Wednesday 8 February at 1pm GMT.

Friends could be an important influence on young women’s risk of acquiring HIV; they serve as a channel for dominant norms about gender and sexuality and are the social contacts through which young women form sexual partnerships. Research from other populations has found that the characteristics of adolescents’ friends can affect a range of health-related behaviours, including sexual behaviour.

While existing evidence from sub-Saharan Africa suggests that peers might be influential, the quantitative evidence base is weak and there has not previously been a study that uses HIV as an outcome. Social network analysis explicitly focuses on the relationships through which influence on behaviour might flow and recognises how an individual’s position within a broader relational network might change their exposure to influences. This approach has been usefully employed to study sexual behaviour in other populations, but not yet in sub-Saharan African adolescents.

In 2011, young women participating in the HPTN 068 Swa Koteka Conditional Cash Transfer trial in rural northeast South Africa were asked to describe their friendships in detail in an egocentric social network study. The results showed that friends' characteristics were associated with:

  • young women’s likelihood of being HIV positive and/or having Herpes Simplex Type 2 virus
  • the age of her sexual partners
  • her likelihood of being sexually active.

This talk will describe the approach to studying young women’s friendships, key findings and the implications for HIV prevention. 

Dr Elizabeth Fearon is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She works on HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa and is interested in how social factors affect HIV risk and how we can measure these factors. Her work uses social network analysis to describe and investigate how the web of relationships an individual is embedded in can affect their risk of exposure to, or protection from HIV.


Is the sexual behaviour of young people in sub-Saharan Africa influenced by their peers? A systematic review


8:00am Washington DC

1:00pm London

2:00pm Geneva

3:00pm Johannesburg

3:00pm Kampala/Mwanza

6:30pm New Delhi/Bangalore


To join the webinar, you must call in AND join online to hear audio and view the slides.

1. Register online now. You will then receive an email giving you the access code and toll-free numbers to dial.

2. Log in to Ready Talk as a participant online, shortly before the presentation begins, so you can see the slides. Use access code 9272774.

3. Dial in to Ready Talk on your telephone, shortly before the presentation begins, so you can hear the presenter speaking. Use access code 9272774.

If your country does not have a toll-free number, you can dial in for free through Skype using the US number 866-740-1260.

Please send enquiries to Sephy [dot] Valuks [at] LSHTM [dot] ac [dot] uk by Friday 3 February 2017.