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HIV researchers win award for cutting teenage infection risks

Almost two million girls in 10 African countries have avoided contracting HIV/AIDs since 2016 thanks to award-winning research into HIV prevention.

The research, which has led to the rollout of 'Cash plus Care' social welfare and support packages that can cut HIV risks among teenage girls by 60 per cent, has won Professor Lucie Cluver and her team a £10,000 award for Outstanding International Impact in the 2017 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize.

Every year 170,000 adolescents in Southern and Eastern Africa are infected with HIV. "Most infections are caused by girls from low income families having unprotected sex with older men," explains Professor Cluver. Figures show that young girls are up to three times more likely to become infected with HIV than boys in South Africa.

Researchers from universities including Oxford University and South Africa's Witwatersrand University explored HIV prevention measures that could improve on the limited success achieved by education-based approaches over the past thirty years.

"In 2014 we were able to show that the combination of social welfare grants of $20 a month combined with parenting support and free schooling (Cash plus Care) had the greatest impact on those most at risk of HIV-infection – reducing incidence of risky sex among teenagers from 11 per cent to 2 per cent each year," Professor Cluver points out.

Cash plus Care is more effective than education-based work because it gives girls from very low-income families the freedom not to have a 'sugar daddy'. 'Sugar daddies' are widely viewed as one of the biggest threats to curbing the spread of AIDS, because the skewed balance of power in many of these relationships means girls are often pressured to have sex without a condom. "Our work showed that as long as they are given enough money to survive, girls will choose not to have a sugar daddy," Professor Cluver explains.

As a result of this work:

  • Cash for Care is now an integral part of United Nations planning and response to the HIV epidemic and the team’s work is cited extensively by UNAIDS, UNICEF, the UN Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank and, during the Obama administration, in USAID briefings to the White House.
  • Major governments, policy makers and international organisations use this research to endorse 'Cash plus Care' programmes. For example, the USAID and Gates Foundation $385 million HIV prevention programme DREAMS, which Professor Cluver advised, funds ‘Cash plus Care’. 
  • The South African government and the research team together wrote a successful application to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and in 2015, $50 million was awarded to South Africa to implement Cash plus Care programmes. 

Now in its fifth year, the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize recognises and rewards the successes of ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved, or are currently achieving, outstanding economic and societal impacts. In awarding the prize for Outstanding International Impact, the judging panel described the work of Professor Cluver and team as "inspiring" and "outstanding". The research, judges commented, clearly had specific and direct impact which is "making a difference to the life chances of adolescents across Africa".

Further information

  • Professor Lucie Cluver
    Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford
    Telephone: 01865 280370

Notes for editors

  1. Professor Lucie Cluver and her team of researchers were awarded the 2017 ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize for Outstanding International Impact and a prize award of £10,000. Professor Cluver is from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford. Team members include Professor Mark Orkin, Mrs Mavis Mpumlwana, Dr Elona Toska, Mrs Nontuthuzelo Bungane, Dr Rebecca Hodes, Professor Lorraine Sherr, Dr Franziska Meinck, Ms Sarah Hoeskma, Dr Mark Boyes, Ms Marija Pantelic, Dr Jenny Doubt and Ms Joy Nikelo. The awards ceremony took place at Central Hall, Westminster on 21 June 2017
  2. For further information on the work of Professor Lucie Cluver and team, see and
  3. The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize is an annual opportunity to recognise and reward the successes of ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved, or are currently achieving, outstanding economic and societal impacts. First run in 2013 and now in its fifth year, the prize celebrates collaborative working, partnerships, engagement and knowledge exchange activities that have led to significant impact of ESRC-funded research. In addition to the prize for Outstanding International Impact, prizes were presented in five other categories: Outstanding Impact in Business and Enterprise, Outstanding Impact in Public Policy, Outstanding Impact in Society, Outstanding Early Career Impact (in partnership with SAGE Publishing) and Impact Champion. 
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
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