Systematic Review of Abstinence-Plus HIV Prevention Programs in High-Income Countries

Public Library of Science, September 2007, Volume 4, Issue 9, e275

Posted: 26 Oct 2018 Last revised: 28 Oct 2018

See all articles by Kristen Underhill

Kristen Underhill

Columbia University - Law School

Don Operario

Independent

Paul Montgomery

Independent

Date Written: September 1, 2007

Abstract

Background: Abstinence-plus (comprehensive) interventions promote sexual abstinence as the best means of preventing HIV, but also encourage condom use and other safer-sex practices. Some critics of abstinence-plus programs have suggested that promoting safer sex along with abstinence may undermine abstinence messages or confuse program participants; conversely, others have suggested that promoting abstinence might undermine safer-sex messages. We conducted a systematic review to investigate the effectiveness of abstinence-plus interventions for HIV prevention among any participants in high-income countries as defined by the World Bank.

Methods and Findings: Cochrane Collaboration systematic review methods were used. We included randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials of abstinence-plus programs for HIV prevention among any participants in any high-income country; trials were included if they reported behavioural or biological outcomes. We searched 30 electronic databases without linguistic or geographical restrictions to February 2007, in addition to contacting experts, hand-searching conference abstracts, and cross-referencing papers. After screening 20,070 abstracts and 325 full published and unpublished papers, we included 39 trials that included approximately 37,724 North American youth. Programs were based in schools (10), community facilities (24), both schools and community facilities (2), health care facilities (2), and family homes (1). Control groups varied. All outcomes were self-reported. Quantitative synthesis was not possible because of heterogeneity across trials in programs and evaluation designs. Results suggested that many abstinence-plus programs can reduce HIV risk as indicated by self-reported sexual behaviours. Of 39 trials, 23 found a protective program effect on at least one sexual behaviour, including abstinence, condom use, and unprotected sex (baseline n ΒΌ 19,819). No trial found adverse program effects on any behavioural outcome, including incidence of sex, frequency of sex, sexual initiation, or condom use. This suggests that abstinence-plus approaches do not undermine program messages encouraging abstinence, nor do they undermine program messages encouraging safer sex. Findings consistently favoured abstinence-plus programs over controls for HIV knowledge outcomes, suggesting that abstinence-plus programs do not confuse participants.

Results: for biological outcomes were limited by floor effects. Three trials assessed self-reported diagnosis or treatment of sexually transmitted infection; none found significant effects. Limited evidence from seven evaluations suggested that some abstinence-plus programs can reduce pregnancy incidence. No trial observed an adverse biological program effect.

Conclusions: Many abstinence-plus programs appear to reduce short-term and long-term HIV risk behaviour among youth in high-income countries. Programs did not cause harm. Although generalisability may be somewhat limited to North American adolescents, these findings have critical implications for abstinence-based HIV prevention policies. Suggestions are provided for improving the conduct and reporting of trials of abstinence-plus and other behavioural interventions to prevent HIV.

Keywords: Abstinence-Plus Interventions, HIV Prevention, Behavioural Interventions

Suggested Citation

Underhill, Kristen and Operario, Don and Montgomery, Paul, Systematic Review of Abstinence-Plus HIV Prevention Programs in High-Income Countries (September 1, 2007). Public Library of Science, September 2007, Volume 4, Issue 9, e275 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3260026

Kristen Underhill (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027

Don Operario

Independent

Paul Montgomery

Independent

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