March 29, 2011
Outbidding "Sugar Daddies" in Malawi: Sometimes Incentives Work
Posted by Christine Hurt

Here is an interesting study experimenting with AIDS prevention outreach in Malawi, a country I am returning to this September.  Sub-Saharan Africa has a well-known AIDS crisis, and in Malawi, one in eight adults has HIV.  Malawi is a small, land-locked country with few resources, and only 2% of houses have water, and the same percentage have electricity.  Most Malawians survive on $1 a day.  Faced with very view opportunities, young teenage Malawi women without "food security" (a nice development euphemism for "enough food not to starve") are tempted to accept the attentions of "sugar daddies," (their word, not mine) who give them money.  The average amount is $6.50 a month.  This phenomenon cannot help the prevention of AIDS, given that 20% of Malawian men in their 30s have HIV.

So, what if you gave teenage girls $10 a month to stay in school and paid their school fees?  Well, you might just cut the incidence of AIDS by over 60%.  Some commentators in the story feel like it is a necessary solution in the world of few alternatives, as healthcare-related interventions falter.  Others believe it is abhorrent.  I think I agree with the former.

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