Just one additional year of secondary school dramatically cut the risk of HIV infection in Botswana, according to a new study. Staying in school for just one year after grade nine reduced the average rate of infection fell 8 percent. At nearly 12 percent, the rate of reduced infection risk was even higher for just girls.
“Investments in secondary schooling are a slam dunk and should go alongside biomedical interventions in any effective HIV prevention strategy,” Jacob Bor, the Boston University professor who headed the study said.
Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. Nearly a quarter of all adults between the ages of 15 and 39 there are living with the sexually transmitted virus.
Bor decided to study the disease prevention possibilities in Botswana because of a shift in its education system. In 1996, the country decided to integrate ninth grade from secondary to junior secondary schools. Since junior secondary schools are more prevalent across the country, it became easier and cheaper for many to attend to them instead of traveling to further flung secondary schools.
More students completed 10th grade after it became more accessible and also marked the end of junior secondary school.
The gains of that one year — which this study shows to be both educational and health-related — may come with lessons for HIV prevention beyond Botswana.
“Our study is among the first to link secondary schooling causally not just to risk behaviors but to HIV infection itself,” Bor said. “[I]nvestments in secondary schooling might be a good strategy to reduce HIV risk in many countries with large, generalized HIV epidemics.”
He believes that that impact of an additional year of education are manifold. Bor noted that higher levels of education may help women get better jobs, and use their income to purchase condoms. Their additional opportunities may also reduce the likelihood that they’ll get involved in prostitution, which greatly increases the risk of contracting HIV.
Karen Grépin, who studies health policy researcher at New York University agreed.
“This is the first convincing study showing that education can be a very powerful form of prevention for HIV,” she said.
The secondary benefits of education extend beyond the risk of HIV — especially for girls. According to UNESCO, each additional year that a girl stays in school reduces rates of infant mortality from five to 10 percent. One additional school year can also raise a woman’s earning by up to 20 percent, a World Bank study found.
Those benefits are compounded across countries. More schooling can mean a higher GDP, and Plan international has estimated that countries lose more than $1 billion a year by failing to educate girls on the same level as boys.