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Behavioral and Social Science Research

The behavioral and social sciences play a key role in HIV prevention research, because every strategy that can be utilized for preventing the acquisition or transmission of HIV has one or more associated behavioral components that can influence its efficacy. These components may affect the adoption and acceptance of a specific prevention approach or may be critical in determining the use, acceptability, and potential efficacy of microbicide strategies in clinical trials.

Research has shown that a wide variety of individual, interpersonal, social, and environmental factors may influence the risk of HIV infection. Individual factors that influence risk may include age, self-esteem, age of sexual debut, self-efficacy to enact prevention behaviors, sexual identity, and substance use. Interpersonal factors include gender equity and female empowerment, partner status, and ability to negotiate prevention with sexual partners. Social and environmental factors that influence risk may include cultural and religious beliefs about sexuality and sexual behavior, culturally proscribed gender norms, and marginalization of certain populations, such as gay men, drug users, commercial sex workers, and at-risk youth.

Studies have shown that HIV risk behaviors can be reduced in any targeted population through interventions that provide risk reduction counseling, stress cognitive approaches to problem solving and behavior change, and help individuals to build the skills they need to reduce HIV risk. Voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) has also been clearly shown to reduce risk behaviors, especially among HIV-infected persons and in extramarital partnerships.

NIAIDĀ isĀ supporting research to better understand the effects of social and behavior factors on HIV acquisition and transmission, to develop innovative behavioral prevention strategies that can address the changing contexts of the HIV pandemic, and to utilize behavioral and social science expertise for the improvement and effective implementation of primarily non-behavioral clinical prevention and therapeutic trials. Behavioral and social science research needs to address a number of relevant HIV prevention areas, such as

  • The impact of community-level behavioral interventions on community-level HIV incidence over time
  • The HIV prevention needs of adolescents and young adults, particularly young women, girls, and other vulnerable youth in resource-constrained settings
  • The prevention needs of HIV-infected persons and the best ways to reach seropositive individuals with prevention messages and interventions
  • The early integration of behavioral and social science research into the microbicide development pipeline to facilitate the development and selection of the most acceptable approaches to microbicide use