About AIDS

Understanding Sexual Behavior Is Key to HIV Prevention

A recent commentary in the British medical journal The Lancet emphasizes that fighting HIV globally - in both developed and developing countries - demands better understanding of sexual behavior. Co-author Dr. Michael W. Ross of the WHO Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research in Houston noted that behavioral changes can work and interventions are fairly inexpensive. They certainly worked in the Eighties, and prevention costs a fraction of what treatment costs.

One major challenge perhaps observed by the authors is that we too poorly understand why people make the decisions they do, even in the face of danger. In the early years, the threat seemed so grave that behavior change was comparatively easy. In this age of improved treatment, however, the imperative has been weakened.

The authors call for the focus on risk behavior to be shifted to understanding sexual behavior, including individual physiology, culture, barriers to safe sex, attitudes toward death, and condom use. Only when norms and drives are understood can one effectively push for change.

The costly drugs for treating HIV disease are available to only a small percentage of the world's people. Behavior change is the only effective way to safeguard against infection in most of the world.

For details, see The Lancet (2000:355,1844,1897-1901).

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