Spotlight Center on HIV Prevention Today

What We Can Do: Putting Research to Work to Prevent HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2001

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

Research into human behavior has proven that culturally relevant interventions based on behavioral theories can work to change the behaviors, attitudes and beliefs not only of individuals but also of communities and whole societies. Behavioral research in the field of HIV/AIDS is based on evidence that strategies addressing behavior and policies effectively reduce the spread of AIDS. The Center for Mental Health Research on AIDS at the National Institute of Mental Health supports research into HIV/AIDS prevention. They can be contacted at This center focuses on a broad range of interventions addressing the following groups:
  • Individuals: Interventions designed to influence individuals often address a person's knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about a disease, including a disease's severity and his or her susceptibility to that disease.

  • Small Groups: Interventions designed to influence small groups may focus on group behaviors, since HIV risk behaviors often occur in group settings.

  • Organizations: Interventions designed to influence organizations focus on the idea that a person's immediate environment, such as school, prison or the workplace, largely influences his or her decision making.

  • Communities: Interventions designed to influence communities attempt to change existing social norms by encouraging the community to accept and expect healthy behaviors and attitudes.


  • Societal/Policy: Interventions designed to influence societies focus on promoting wellness in the society by implementing effective public policies.

The following chart details interventions that researchers have found to be effective in changing behaviors among various populations:

Level of InterventionExamples of Intended OutcomesStrategies/MethodsPopulations with Whom the Interventions Were Effective
IndividualIncrease knowledge regarding vulnerability to AIDS

Gain more positive attitudes towards safer sex, condom use, and abstinence

Develop stress and coping skills

Increase abstinence from sexual activity and consistent condom use

Decrease the number of partners and the number of sexual encounters

Decrease needle risk behavior

Question and answer sessions

Distribution of information brochures

Peer-led small and large group discussions

Demonstrations of correct condom use; HIV testing and risk-reduction counseling

Increased access to healthcare

Heterosexual Adolescents; Heterosexual African American Adolescents; Runaway Adolescents; Heterosexual African American Women; Heterosexual Mentally Ill Adults; Homeless Adults; Heterosexual Injection Drug Users
Small GroupOvercome social and cultural pressures to engage in risk behaviors

Increase acceptance of condom use and consistent condom use

Increase negotiation, management and communication skills

Address gender roles

Encourage self-pride, personal responsibility and the importance of protecting loved ones

Interactive group sessions and role playing

HIV testing of couples

Discussions about the importance of condoms in primary and non-primary relationships

Heterosexual Hispanic Adults

Heterosexual Couples

OrganizationCreate an environment conducive to reducing HIV-risk behavior and needle sharing

Increase employee knowledge and awareness about HIV/AIDS and HIV-related issues; Foster a respectful, non-discriminatory workplace

Condom distribution; Compulsory testing; Methadone treatment

Needle exchange programs

Seminar presentations on HIV/AIDS

Prison populations

Employees in the workplace

CommunityAddress and change community norms

Increase condom use across the population

Address perceptions of risk behaviors and safer sexual activity

Mobilize and empower community members

Publicity and media campaigns

Widespread social marketing of condoms

Distribution of educational materials in community; Risk-reduction workshops; Community social events

San Francisco

Zaire and Switzerland

Young men who have sex with men

Societal/PolicyAttain uncontaminated supply of blood

Decrease needle sharing

Create more educational and economic opportunities to reduce the disparity between genders and social classes

Create policy to screen blood supplies

Change state law to allow sales of non-prescription syringes in pharmacies

Provide loans to women to establish small businesses

United States



This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication I Care ... Do You? Youth and AIDS in the 21st Century.


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