The Roma constitute a large ethnic minority in Serbia, and are one of the poorest and most marginalized groups in Europe. Roma youth may be at high risk for hepatitis C, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections, but little is known about the prevalence of these infectious diseases, HIV-related knowledge, and risky sexual behaviors in this vulnerable population.
We used a respondent-driven sampling to conduct biobehavioral surveys of Roma youth (aged 15-24 years) in Belgrade and Kragujevac, and to document HIV-related knowledge and risky sexual behaviors, health-seeking behaviors, and seroprevalence of HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV), and syphilis.
Four hundred eleven Roma youth participated in this study. One participant had HIV, four had HCV, and none had syphilis. Risky sexual behaviors were highly prevalent, especially among male subjects: 36.2% (Belgrade) and 45.1% (Kragujevac) had sexual debut before the age of 15 years; 53.9% (Belgrade) and 61.1% (Kragujevac) had more than one sexual partner in the past year; 11.5% (Belgrade) and 4.6% (Kragujevac) reported engaging in commercial sex; and 4.0% (Belgrade) and 3.2% (Kragujevac) reported having anal sex with other men. Among female subjects aged <25 years, 33.5% (Belgrade) and 25.7% (Kragujevac) reported having an abortion. One-quarter of all participants answered all five HIV knowledge questions correctly.
Fortunately, the current prevalence of HIV, HCV, and syphilis is low; however, the high prevalence of reported risky behaviors suggests that Roma youth in Serbia are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.