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AIDS. 2020 Jan 1;34(1):149-154. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000002362.

Recently formed age-disparate partnerships are associated with elevated HIV-incidence among young women in South Africa.

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Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU), School of Economics, University of Cape Town, Middle Campus, Cape Town, South Africa.
Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA.
Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).
Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division (HEARD), University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
Epicentre AIDS Risk Management (Pty) Limited, Sandton, South Africa.



Cross-sectional and cohort studies draw different conclusions on whether age-disparate partnerships increase HIV-acquisition risk for young women. We investigated whether age-disparities were associated with HIV-infection risk early in relationships. This could result in the exclusion of women who seroconverted during high-risk age-disparate partnerships from cohort studies of HIV incidence - which exclude HIV-positive women - and explain null findings in these studies.


Prospective cohort study.


We used data on 15-24-year-old, HIV-negative women in heterosexual partnerships (N = 830) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The association between age-disparate partnering (i.e., male partner ≥5 years older) and subsequent HIV seroconversion was assessed using Cox hazard models. We examined heterogeneity in HIV-acquisition risk by duration of partnership (defined by quartiles) at cohort enrolment.


During 1139 person-years (mean: 1.4 years) of follow-up, 54 (6.5%) women seroconverted, a weighted HIV-incidence estimate of 4.41/100 person-years [95% confidence interval (CI): 3.30-6.06]. HIV-acquisition risk did not differ significantly between women in age-disparate vs. age-similar partnerships (adjusted hazard ratios: 1.10, 95% CI: 0.55-2.21). However, for women in the shortest partnership quartile (<1.09 years) at baseline, risk of HIV seroconversion was higher for women in age-disparate partnerships (adjusted hazard ratios: 3.13, 95% CI: 1.02-9.65, P = 0.047). HIV acquisition was not statistically different by partnership type among women in longer partnerships.


The association between age-disparate partnerships and HIV-acquisition risk is evident early in young women's relationships. Results provide a potential explanation for null findings in cohort studies, whose research designs may exclude women in such partnerships, and affirms the elevated risk of HIV acquisition for young women in age-disparate relationships.

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