Operations Research Among Key Populations in Ghana


A common misconception about HIV/AIDS in Africa is that the epidemic is similar across the continent. Nothing could be further from truth. While the virus affects a large proportion of the heterosexual adult population in East and Southern Africa, in West Africa the epidemic (with the exception of Nigeria) is smaller, slower, and largely concentrated in highly vulnerable populations. While only 1.3% of the adult population is infected in Ghana, HIV prevalence within some key populations is much higher. For example, the Ghanaian government estimates that HIV prevalence among female sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), and prisoners is 13%, 18%, and 6% respectively. These highly vulnerable populations were the focus of research at the BU Center for Global Health and Development (CGHD) that was conducted in partnership with Ghanaian collaborators at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi. In a multi-study project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), CGHD and KNUST collected detailed qualitative information from young sex workers, MSM, prisoners, injection drug users, students, and people living with HIV to better understand their specialized needs. Our goal through this collection of studies was to provide information to the Ghanaian government, donors, and service providers who design and implement programs aimed at preventing HIV infection and providing appropriate services for these key populations.

The Studies

With our collaborators at KNUST, the CGHD team conducted nine in-depth qualitative studies. Contact Jennifer Beard if you’d like access to the full reports.

"What Big Data Won't Tell You" appeared in Bostonia in Fall 2014, detailing the study and its effects in Ghana.

“What Big Data Won’t Tell You” appeared in Bostonia in Fall 2014, detailing the study and its effects in Ghana. Click the photo to read the full article.

  • Girls and adolescents involved in sex work
  • Prisoners (final report to be released shortly)
  • Female university students who exchange sex for grades or gifts
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM) ages 15 – 29
  • Older men who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • Boyfriends and intimate partners of sex workers
  • People living with HIV/AIDs and adherence to treatment
  • Women working in restaurant bars

Project Results

The information we collected along with our analysis and recommendations were used by the Ghana AIDS Commission, USAID, and nongovernmental organizations to improve and expand services to these key populations. For instance, of the 48 young women involved in sex work interviewed, we found that most of them had started at age 15 or earlier. However, most of the services provided to sex workers focus on adults. In the last year, our findings have led to programming specifically for adolescent girls at risk for or just getting involved in sex work. Additionally, we presented findings from six of our studies to stakeholders at the 3rd Annual NHARCON conference in Accra, Ghana. The audience included policy makers, NGO and government leaders, researchers, law enforcement, and members of key populations. The team held a series of final dissemination meetings in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana in May 2014 to share findings and gather feedback and insight from local experts. These dissemination meetings informed our final reports and recommendations, which are available on this website in the “Related Publications” section. We also published articles on two of these studies in a special issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (JAIDS) devoted to Key Populations in West Africa (March 2015).

Understanding the HIV Prevention Needs of Highly Vulnerable Populations in Ghana is an activity of the CGHD’s Project SEARCH (Supporting Evaluation and Research to Combat HIV/AIDS).

Project Details

Principal Investigator Jennifer Beard
Boston University Co-Investigators Monita Baba Djara, Monica Onyango, Lora Sabin, Lisa Messersmith
Collaborators Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Country(ies) Ghana
Dates of Research 2010-2014