This article is part of the supplement: Learning from large scale prevention efforts: findings from Avahan

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Assessment of the scale, coverage and outcomes of the Avahan HIV prevention program for female sex workers in Tamil Nadu, India: is there evidence of an effect?

S Thilakavathi1*, K Boopathi1, CP Girish Kumar1, A Santhakumar1, R Senthilkumar1, C Eswaramurthy1, V Ilaya Bharathy1, L Ramakrishnan2, G Thongamba2, R Adhikary2 and R Paranjape3

Author Affiliations

1 National Institute of Epidemiology (ICMR), Second Main Road, TNHB, Ayapakkam, Chennai 600 077, India

2 FHI India, H-5 (Ground Floor), Green Park Extension, New Delhi 110016, India

3 National AIDS Research Institute (ICMR), T 71-1A/2, M.I.D.C., Telco Road, Bhosari, Pune - 411 026, India

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11(Suppl 6):S3  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-S6-S3

Published: 29 December 2011



Avahan, the India AIDS Initiative, a large-scale HIV prevention program, using peer-mediated approaches and STI services, was implemented for high-risk groups for HIV in six states in India. This paper describes the assessment of the program among female sex workers (FSWs) in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.


An analytical framework based on the Avahan impact evaluation design was used. Routine program monitoring data, two rounds of cross-sectional biological and behavioural surveys among FSWs in 2006 (Round 1) and 2009 (Round 2) and quality assessments of clinical services for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were used to assess trends in coverage, condom use and prevalence of STIs, HIV and their association with program exposure. Logistic regression analysis was used to examine trends in intermediate outcomes and their associations with intervention exposure.


The Avahan program in Tamil Nadu was scaled up and achieved monthly reported coverage of 79% within four years of implementation. The cross-sectional survey data showed an increasing proportion of FSWs being reached by Avahan, 54% in Round 1 and 86% in Round 2 [AOR=4.7;p=0.001]. Quality assessments of STI clinical services showed consistent improvement in quality scores (3.0 in 2005 to 4.5 in 2008). Condom distribution by the program rose to cover all estimated commercial sex acts. Reported consistent condom use increased between Round 1 and Round 2 with occasional (72% to 93%; AOR=5.5; p=0.001) and regular clients (68% to 89%; AOR=4.3; p=0.001) while reactive syphilis serology declined significantly (9.7% to 2.2% AOR=0.2; p=0.001). HIV prevalence remained stable at 6.1% between rounds. There was a strong association between Avahan exposure and consistent condom use with commercial clients; however no association was seen with declines in STIs.


The Avahan program in Tamil Nadu achieved high coverage of FSWs, resulting in outcomes of improved condom use, declining syphilis and stabilizing HIV prevalence. These expected outcomes following the program logic model and declining HIV prevalence among general population groups suggest potential impact of high risk group interventions on HIV epidemic in Tamil Nadu.