Strategies to identify and reach young women who sell sex with HIV prevention and care services: lessons learnt from the implementation of DREAMS services in two cities in Zimbabwe

Sungai Chabata, Rumbidzo Makandwa, Bernadette Hensen, Phillis Mushati, Tarisai Chiyaka, Sithembile Musemburi, Joanna Busza, Sian Floyd, Isolde Birdthistle, James R. Hargreaves, Frances M. Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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Background: Young women who sell sex (YWSS), are underserved by available HIV prevention and care services. The Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) Partnership aimed to reduce the risk of HIV acquisition among vulnerable populations of adolescent girls and young women, including YWSS, in 10 sub-Saharan African countries. We describe 2 methods, respondent-driven sampling (RDS) and peer outreach, used to refer YWSS for DREAMS services in Zimbabwe, and compare the characteristics and engagement of YWSS referred to these services by each method. We hypothesized that RDS would identify YWSS at higher risk of HIV and those who were less engaged with HIV prevention and care services than peer outreach.

Objective: We aimed to compare respondent-driven sampling and peer outreach in recruiting and referring high-risk populations for HIV prevention and care services.

Methods: We used RDS, a sampling method designed to reach a representative sample of the network of key populations, and peer outreach, a programmatic approach to identify, reach, and refer YWSS for DREAMS between April and July 2017, and January 2017 and July 2018, respectively, in 2 cities in Zimbabwe. For RDS, we conducted detailed mapping to understand sex work typology and geography, and then purposively selected 10 "seed" participants in each city to initiate RDS. For peer outreach, we initiated recruitment through 18 trained and age-matched peer educators using youth-tailored community mobilization. We described the characteristics and service engagement of YWSS who accessed DREAMS services by each referral approach and assessed the association of these characteristics with referral approach using the chi-square test. Analysis was performed with and without restricting the period when RDS took place. We estimated the relative incremental costs of recruiting YWSS using each strategy for referral to DREAMS services. 

Results: Overall, 5386 and 1204 YWSS were referred for DREAMS services through peer outreach and RDS, respectively. YWSS referred through RDS were more likely to access DREAMS services compared to YWSS referred through peer outreach (501/1204, 41.6% vs 930/5386, 17.3%; P

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32286
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number7
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • respondent-driven sampling
  • peer outreach
  • female sex worker
  • young women who sell sex
  • HIV prevention
  • Zimbabwe
  • sub-Saharan Africa


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