Can $5 a month protect a girl from HIV? A study published in The Lancet in February suggests it can. The research, led by World Bank economist Sarah Baird, involved 1,289 schoolgirls between the ages of 13 and 22 from the Zomba district of Malawi. About 20 percent of the girls were sexually active at the start of the study, and a quarter of that group said they were with their partners “because they ‘needed his assistance’ or ‘wanted gifts or money.’ ”
The researchers randomly divided the girls into two groups, one of which received small cash payments each month. The girls families’ also received payments. After 18 months, the group receiving payments had an HIV infection rate of 1.2 percent, compared with 3 percent in the control group.
Although limited by its small sample and short duration, the study suggests that cash transfers to school-aged girls can reduce their risk of HIV infection. Baird and her colleagues estimate that the cost of preventing one case of AIDS this way would be about $5,000, including administrative costs as well as the monthly payments.