The impact of the DREAMS partnership on HIV incidence among young women who sell sex in two Zimbabwean cities: results of a non-randomised study

Sungai T Chabata, Bernadette Hensen, Tarisai Chiyaka, Phillis Mushati, Sithembile Musemburi, Jeffrey Dirawo, Joanna Busza, Sian Floyd, Isolde Birdthistle, James R Hargreaves, Frances M Cowan

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INTRODUCTION: Young women who sell sex (YWSS) in Zimbabwe remain at high risk of HIV infection. Effective HIV prevention strategies are needed. Through support to access a combination of evidence-based interventions, including oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) partnership aimed to reduce new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by 40% over 24 months.

METHODS: Non-randomised 'plausibility' evaluation, powered to detect a 40% HIV incidence difference between DREAMS and non-DREAMS sites. Two large cities with DREAMS funding were included, and four smaller non-DREAMS towns for comparison. In all sites, YWSS were enrolled to a cohort through peer-referral. Women were followed up for 24 months. HIV seroconversion was the primary outcome, with secondary outcomes identified through a theory of change. Outcomes were compared between YWSS recruited in DREAMS cities and non-DREAMS towns, adjusting for individual-level confounders and HIV prevalence at enrolment.

RESULTS: From April to July 2017, 2431 women were enrolled, 1859 of whom were HIV negative at enrolment; 1019 of these women (54.8%) were followed up from March to May 2019 and included in endline analysis. Access to clinical services increased, but access to socioeconomic interventions promoted by DREAMS was limited. A total of 79 YWSS HIV seroconverted, with HIV incidence among YWSS in DREAMS cities lower (3.1/100 person-years) than in non-DREAMS towns (5.3/100 person-years). In prespecified adjusted analysis, HIV incidence was lower in DREAMS cities but with weak statistical evidence (adjusted rate ratio (RR)=0.68; 95% CI 0.40 to 1.19; p=0.18). Women in DREAMS cities were more likely to report ever and ongoing PrEP use, consistent condom use, fewer sexual partners and less intimate partner violence.

CONCLUSION: It is plausible that DREAMS lowered HIV incidence among YWSS in two Zimbabwean cities, but our evaluation provides weak statistical evidence for impact and suggests any reduction in incidence was lower than the anticipated 40% decline. We identified changes to some important 'pathways to impact' variables, including condom use.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere003892
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Cities
  • Female
  • HIV Infections/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Zimbabwe/epidemiology


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