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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Berkeley: Depression Puts South African Girls at Higher Risk of Contracting HIV

Teen girls in South Africa face an extraordinary threat of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By the time they reach adulthood, one in four South African girls will have contracted the virus, and most are first infected during adolescence.

Experiencing depression puts these girls at even higher risk of HIV infection, reveals analyses led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and based on a longitudinal study led by colleagues at the University of North Carolina and the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

The findings, which appear online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggest that interventions targeted at improving mental health among adolescent girls may help stem the spread of HIV in South Africa and throughout the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

“We’ve known that depression and HIV go together for decades, but no one has known which way the arrow goes: Does depression lead to HIV or does HIV lead to depression?” said Dr. Jennifer Ahern, professor of epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health and senior author on the study. “Probably it goes both ways, but we were able to show that, at least in this population, the arrow certainly goes one way, which is depression leads to HIV. This could have important implications for where interventions might lie.”

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