Adolescent Mothers in Eastern and Southern Africa: An Overlooked and Uniquely Vulnerable Subpopulation in the Fight Against HIV

Purpose: Adolescent girls (10-19 years) in Eastern and Southern Africa face a high risk of pregnancy and HIV infection. However, few studies have examined whether the profound developmental, social, and economic changes that accompany adolescent motherhood contribute to HIV risk. This study examines the intersection between adolescent motherhood and HIV infection across 10 Eastern and Southern African countries, where over half of all HIV infections occur among adolescent girls.

Methods: To evaluate whether adolescent motherhood is associated with HIV infection, we used Demographic and Health Survey data on girls (15-19 years) with HIV test results (N = 19,932) from Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We examined unweighted bivariate and multivariable associations between adolescent motherhood and HIV using mixed effects logistic regression models that included a country-level random intercept. We examined heterogeneity in the association by testing country-level random slopes using a likelihood ratio test and used intraclass correlation to measure the proportion of total variance explained at the country level.

Results: Nearly one fifth of adolescent girls were mothers (range: 9.80%-38.90%), and the HIV prevalence among all adolescent girls was 3.3% (range: 1.03%-10.07%). Relative to nonmothers, adolescent mothers were, on average, older, poorer, and more likely to be married, rural dwellers, and household heads. Adolescent motherhood was positively associated with HIV infection in bivariate and multivariable analyses (odds ratio: 1.87; 95% confidence interval: 1.57-2.23; adjusted odds ratio: 1.53; 95% CI: 1.24-1.89).

Discussion: Among adolescents with HIV test results, we observed a robust association between adolescent motherhood and HIV infection across 10 high-burden countries.

Keywords: Adolescent girls and young women; Adolescent motherhood; Adolescent pregnancy; Africa; HIV prevention.