Adverse childhood experiences, sexual debut and HIV testing among adolescents in a low-income high HIV-prevalence context

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Objectives:To investigate whether adverse childhood experiences are important determinants of sexual debut and HIV testing.Design:Adolescents (age 10–16; N = 2089) from rural Malawi were interviewed in 2017–2018 for the baseline wave of a longitudinal study of childhood adversity and HIV risk.Methods:Respondents were interviewed in their local language. Surveys captured 13 lifetime childhood adversities (using the Adverse Childhood Experience – International Questionnaire); sexual debut; and previous HIV testing. We used multivariate regression models to test whether adversity, measured both cumulatively and separately, predicted HIV risk.Results:For each additional adversity, there was a significant rise in the odds of sexual debut (odds ratio 1.13, confidence interval 1.07–1.20) and HIV testing (odds ratio 1.10, confidence interval 1.04–1.16).Conclusion:Preventing HIV among all young people necessitates a paradigm shift that recognizes the importance of early life social determinants in structuring HIV risk.

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