Background. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection and a causative agent of cervical cancer. It is common in adolescent girls and young women, and the majority of infections are transient and asymptomatic. In Botswana, there are currently no data on the HPV prevalence against which the impact of prophylactic HPV vaccines can be measured. Objectives. To establish a baseline HPV prevalence in an unvaccinated cohort of young women. Methods. Women aged ≥18 years were recruited from the University of Botswana between September 2016 and May 2020. Demographic and behavioural characteristics of participants were collected. Subsequently, cervicovaginal swabs were obtained and tested for HPV using polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism. We determined the prevalent HPV types, and evaluated the risk factors associated with HPV positivity. Results. A total of 978 young women were recruited. Overall, there were 589 (60.2%) participants with HPV infection and 12 (1.2%) with HIV. The median (interquartile range) age of the study participants was 19 (18 - 20) years. Multivariate logistic regression analysis showed that significant factors associated with HPV positivity were sexual activity (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 2.06; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.49 - 2.63; p<0.001), number of sex partners ≥3 (aOR 2.10; 95% CI 1.39 - 3.18; p<0.001), and smoking (aOR 2.00; 95% CI 1.26 - 3.20; p=0.004). Conclusion. Our results demonstrate for the first time the prevalence of HPV in unvaccinated young women in Botswana. We found a high prevalence of HPV infection, with statistical differences with different risk factors. This finding supports the need for HPV vaccination strategies for females prior to sexual debut to reduce the future burden of cervical cancer in Botswana.
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