Journal Article

Reducing HIV-related risk and mental health problems through a client-centred psychosocial intervention for vulnerable adolescents in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopia is experiencing an increasingly urban HIV epidemic, alongside a rise in urban adolescent migration. Adolescent migrants are often confronted by unique social challenges, including living in a difficult environment, abuse and mental health problems. These issues can increase adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV and compromise their capacity to protect themselves and others from HIV. We piloted and assessed the effects of a targeted psychosocial intervention to reduce mental health problems and improve HIV-related outcomes among migrant adolescents in Addis Ababa.

A pre- and post-comparison design was used in a cohort of 576 female and 154 male migrant adolescents aged 15 to 18 years in Addis Ababa receiving services from two service delivery organizations, Biruh Tesfa and Retrak. We implemented a three-month client-centred, counsellor-delivered psychosocial intervention, based on findings from formative research among the same target population, to address participants’ increased vulnerability to HIV. The intervention package comprised individual, group and creative arts therapy counselling sessions. Key outcome indicators included anxiety, depression, aggressive behaviour, attention problems, social problems, knowledge of HIV, safer sex practices and use of sexual health services. Longitudinal data analysis (McNemar test and random effects regression) was used to assess changes over time in key indicators by gender.

For females, aggressive behaviour decreased by 60% (adjusted odds ratio (AOR): 0.4 (0.25 to 0.65)) and any mental health problem decreased by 50% (AOR: 0.5 (0.36 to 0.81)) from baseline to end line. In addition, knowledge of HIV increased by 60% (AOR: 1.6 (1.08 to 2.47)), knowledge of a place to test for HIV increased by 70% (AOR: 1.7 (1.12 to 2.51)) and HIV testing increased by 80% (AOR: 1.8 (1.13 to 2.97)). For males, HIV knowledge increased by 110% (AOR: 2.1 (1.1 to 3.94)), knowledge of a place to test for HIV increased by 290% (AOR: 3.9 (1.02 to 14.9)), HIV testing increased by 630% (AOR: 7.3 (2.6 to 20.7)) and use of sexual health services increased by 220% (AOR: 3.2 (1.62 to 6.27)). We did not find any significant reduction in mental health problems among male adolescents.

Our findings suggest that a psychosocial intervention was associated with increased knowledge and uptake of HIV and sexual health services among both male and female migrant adolescents and with reduced mental health problems among female adolescents. Mental health problems varied significantly for male and female adolescents, suggesting that future interventions should be tailored to address their different needs and would benefit from intensive follow-up efforts.