Cash transfer programs, which deliver direct payments to individuals in poverty, were associated with improved HIV outcomes in 42 countries between 1996 and 2019, according to a study published in Nature Human Behaviour.
HIV continues to be a major global public health threat, particularly for people living in poverty; it caused an estimated 1.7 million new infections and 690,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2019. In the past two decades, cash transfer programs have been introduced in many low- and middle-income countries to combat poverty. Previous research has shown that cash transfer programs have helped to decrease poverty, raised school attendance for children, improved empowerment among women and improved health service use, among other benefits. These programs also have the potential to reduce HIV risk behaviours and to increase the use of HIV services, but their overall effects on HIV-related outcomes remain unknown.
To understand the impact of these cash transfer programs on HIV, Aaron Richterman and Harsha Thirumurthy analysed data from 1996–2019 (1,885,733 survey respondents in total, 69% of whom were female), collected in 42 countries with HIV epidemics (36 countries in Africa, 4 in Latin America and the Caribbean and 2 in Asia). The authors used a difference-in-differences approach, which is a method used to detect causal effects. They found that cash transfer programs were associated with a reduction in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths, increased HIV testing, and improved antiretroviral coverage.
Although the authors point out that there are several limitations to the study, they conclude that combating poverty may be one way to control HIV epidemics in low- and middle-income countries.