Journal Article

The impact of life skills education on adolescent sexual risk behaviors in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Purpose
To assess the impact of exposure to life skills education by youth in KwaZulu-Natal Province (KZN, South Africa) on knowledge and behaviors associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Methods
Data come from a panel study of 2222 youth from several population subgroups in KZN. The youth were aged 14–24 years when interviewed in 1999 and 2001. The intervention was a full coverage life skills education program for all students in middle and secondary schools. Impact was measured as net dose-response relationships between life skills exposure and outcomes. Econometric methods were used to control for nonrandom exposure to life skills education. Outcomes included sexual behavior and consom use indicators.

Results
Significant effects, albeit modest in magnitude, were observed on selected areas of sexual-reproductive health knowledge and perceived condom self-efficacy, along with larger effects on condom use at first and last sex. No consistent effects on age at sexual initiation, secondary abstinence, or partnering behaviors were observed among these youth.

Conclusions
School-based life skills education appears capable of communicating key information and helping youth develop skills relevant to reducing HIV risk. However, the South African national program has yet to be fully implemented, and whether this initiative will result in sustained behavior modification among youth on a sufficient scale to affect the HIV/AIDS epidemic is uncertain.