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Open Access Research article

Structural factors associated with an increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infection transmission among street-involved youth

Brandon DL Marshall12, Thomas Kerr13, Jean A Shoveller2, Julio SG Montaner13 and Evan Wood13*

Author Affiliations

1 British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul's Hospital, 608 – 1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 1Y6, Canada

2 School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, 5804 Fairview Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada

3 Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, 608 – 1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 1Y6, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9:7  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-7

Published: 9 January 2009

Abstract

Background

The prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among street-involved youth greatly exceed that of the general adolescent population; however, little is known regarding the structural factors that influence disease transmission risk among this population.

Methods

Between September 2005 and October 2006, 529 street-involved youth were enroled in a prospective cohort known as the At Risk Youth Study (ARYS). We examined structural factors associated with number of sex partners using quasi-Poisson regression and consistent condom use using logistic regression.

Results

At baseline, 415 (78.4%) were sexually active, of whom 253 (61.0%) reported multiple sex partners and 288 (69.4%) reported inconsistent condom use in the past six months. In multivariate analysis, self-reported barriers to health services were inversely associated with consistent condom use (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 0.52, 95%CI: 0.25 – 1.07). Structural factors that were associated with greater numbers of sex partners included homelessness (adjusted incidence rate ratio [aIRR] = 1.54, 95%CI: 1.11 – 2.14) and having an area restriction that affects access to services (aIRR = 2.32, 95%CI: 1.28 – 4.18). Being searched or detained by the police was significant for males (aIRR = 1.36, 95%CI: 1.02 – 1.81).

Conclusion

Although limited by its cross-sectional design, our study found several structural factors amenable to policy-level interventions independently associated with sexual risk behaviours. These findings imply that the criminalization and displacement of street-involved youth may increase the likelihood that youth will engage in sexual risk behaviours and exacerbate the negative impact of resultant health outcomes. Moreover, our findings indicate that environmental-structural interventions may help to reduce the burden of these diseases among street youth in urban settings.