Mandrax use, sexual risk, and opportunities for pre-exposure prophylaxis among out-of-school adolescent girls and young women in Cape Town, South Africa
Bonner, C. P., Browne, F. A., Carney, T., Shangase, N., Ndirangu, J. W., Myers, B. J., & Wechsberg, W. M. (2022). Mandrax use, sexual risk, and opportunities for pre-exposure prophylaxis among out-of-school adolescent girls and young women in Cape Town, South Africa. South African Medical Journal, 341-346. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35587247/
Background: In South Africa (SA), adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) aged 15 - 24 years account for nearly 25% of all new HIV infections in the country. The intersection of substance use and sexual risk continues to drive the HIV epidemic among AGYW. For example, methaqualone, also known as Mandrax, has sedative effects that may affect women's ability to negotiate condom use during sex, refuse sex without a condom, or consent to sex, thereby increasing their risk for HIV. Consequently, it is critical to understand how Mandrax use affects HIV risk among AGYW and to assess awareness of and willingness to use biomedical HIV prevention methods, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), among AGYW who use Mandrax.
Objectives: To examine the role of Mandrax use in sexual behaviours and investigate the extent to which AGYW who use Mandrax are aware of and willing to initiate PrEP.
Methods: Data for this report were derived from baseline and 6-month follow-up data provided by 500 AGYW participating in a cluster-randomised trial assessing the efficacy of a young woman-focused intervention to reduce substance use and HIV risk. AGYW who self-identified as black African or coloured, reported using substances, reported condomless sex in the past 3 months, and had discontinued school early were recruited from 24 community clusters across Cape Town, SA. Following consent/assent, participants provided biological specimens to test for recent drug use (including Mandrax) and completed the self-report questionnaire.
Results: Logistic regression analysis revealed that the AGYW who had a positive test result for Mandrax use were less likely to use a condom with their main partner (p=0.01), and almost three times more likely to use alcohol and/or other drugs before or during their last act of sexual intercourse (p<0.001), compared with the AGYW who had a negative Mandrax test result. Mandrax use was not significantly related to PrEP awareness (p>0.10) or willingness to use PrEP (p>0.10), but 70% of AGYW who used Mandrax were willing to initiate PrEP.
Conclusion: The study findings highlight how Mandrax use may contribute to HIV risk among SA AGYW. Key decision-makers should consider incorporating substance use prevention efforts into existing HIV reduction programmes and equip youth-friendly clinics with the resources to identify AGYW who use Mandrax and offer them PrEP.