War-Related Abduction and History of Incarceration Linked to High Burden of HIV Among Female Sex Workers in Conflict-Affected Northern Uganda

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Sex workers (SWs) in sub-Saharan Africa face a disproportionate HIV burden and growing concerns of severe human rights violations. Given the dearth of evidence on the burden and correlates of HIV among SWs in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly within conflict-affected settings, we examined the relationship between structural determinants (eg, war-related abduction, incarceration) and HIV infection among conflict-affected SWs in Northern Uganda.


Cross-sectional community-based research study among female SWs in conflict-affected Gulu, Northern Uganda.


Interview questionnaires and voluntary HIV testing were conducted with participants recruited through SW/peer-led outreach and time–location sampling from 2011 to 2012. HIV prevalence was calculated, and bivariable and multivariable logistic regression was used to identify independent associations with HIV seroprevalence.


Of 400 SWs, 135 (33.75%) were HIV seropositive; of whom one-third were new/previously undiagnosed HIV infections. In multivariable analysis, after adjusting for age of sex work entry and education, lifetime incarceration (adjusted odds ratio: 1.93, 95% confidence interval: 1.17 to −3.20) was independently associated with HIV seroprevalence, and history of wartime abduction (adjusted odds ratio: 1.62, 95% confidence interval: 1.00 to 2.63) was marginally associated (P = 0.051).


This study documented a high rate of undiagnosed HIV infections and associations between war-related human rights violations, incarceration, and a heavy HIV burden among SWs in conflict-affected Northern Uganda. These findings highlight the serious harms of conflict and criminalization of marginalized women in sub-Saharan African contexts. SW-led interventions that address conflict experiences and policy shifts to promote a rights-based approach to HIV prevention and care remain critically needed.

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