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HIV Prevention Programmes

A sign calling to 'Stop AIDS'HIV prevention programmes are interventions that aim to halt the transmission of HIV. They are implemented to either protect an individual and their community, or rolled out as public health policies.

Initially, HIV prevention methods focused primarily on preventing the sexual transmission of HIV through behaviour change. For a number of years, the ABC Approach - "Abstinence, Be faithful, Use a Condom" - was used in response to the growing epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. However, by the mid-2000s, it became evident that effective HIV prevention requires more than simply ABC and that interventions need to take into account underlying socio-cultural, economic, political, legal and other contextual factors. 1

Indeed, as the complex nature of the global HIV epidemic has become clear, forms of 'combination prevention' have largely replaced ABC. Combination prevention advocates for a holistic approach whereby HIV prevention is not a single intervention (such as condom distribution) but the simultaneous use of complementary behavioural, biomedical and structural prevention strategies. 2

Combination Prevention

Combination prevention programmes combine many different HIV prevention interventions into a single, all-inclusive programme. Combination prevention includes a range of initiatives from condom promotion to blood screening, and legal reform.

Combination prevention programmes consider factors specific to each setting, e.g. levels of infrastructure, local culture and traditions as well as populations most affected by HIV. Combination prevention programmes can be implemented at the individual, community and population levels. 3

UNAIDS have called for combined approaches to HIV prevention to be scaled-up, to reinvigorate the global response and make a sustained impact on global HIV incidence rates. UNAIDS defines combination prevention as:

"rights-based, evidence-informed, and community-owned programmes that use a mix of biomedical, behavioural, and structural interventions, prioritised to meet the current HIV prevention needs of particular individuals and communities, so as to have the greatest sustained impact on reducing new infections" 4

'Know your epidemic, know your response'

Developing a clear and evidence-informed picture of a specific HIV epidemic is needed before deciding on a package of HIV prevention interventions.

The ‘know your epidemic, know your response’ approach is the starting point for combination prevention programming, and is comprised of a series of exercises to help categorise an epidemic (e.g. generalised, concentrated). This involves looking at factors such as modes of HIV transmission, key affected groups and key epidemiological trends (e.g. the number of new HIV infections among young people). 5 6

The planning process that programmers and policy makers are recommended to follow is described below:

  • A planning process that is inclusive and based on evidence

Ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including government officials, cultural leaders, civil society organisations, donors, and most importantly, individuals and communities affected by HIV and AIDS.

  • Identify modes of transmission and the most affected populations

Understand how HIV is spread in an epidemic. Identify the most common modes of transmission, and the most affected populations.

  • Identify geographic variations in HIV prevalence

Identify geographic difference in HIV prevalence. E.g. urban vs rural.

  • Know the size of key affected populations

Ensure the appropriate tools are available to collect, monitor and evaluate data about key populations.

  • Identify and understand structural factors that might fuel HIV prevalence

Analyse social, legal, economic and cultural drivers of HIV prevalence. E.g. punitive laws, gender inequalities etc.

Upon completion of the ‘know your epidemic, know your response’ planning process, a package of coordinated biomedical, behavioural and structural HIV prevention interventions can be developed and implemented. 7

Behavioural interventions

Behavioural interventions seek to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by addressing risky behaviours. A behavioural intervention may aim to reduce the number of sexual partners individuals have, improve treatment adherence among people living with HIV, increase the use of clean needles among PWID, or increase the consistent and correct use of condoms. To date, these types of interventions have proved the most successful. 8

Examples of behavioural interventions:

  • Information provision (e.g. sex education)
  • Counselling and other forms of psycho-social support
  • Safe infant feeding guidelines
  • Stigma and discrimination reduction programmes
  • Cash transfer programmes 9

A teacher shows pupils how to use a condom on an educational programme promoting HIV awareness, Cambodia

Biomedical interventions

Biomedical interventions use a mix of clinical and medical approaches to reduce HIV transmission. One example of a biomedical intervention, male circumcision, is a simple medical procedure that has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by up to 60 percent during unprotected heterosexual sex. 10

In order to be effective, biomedical interventions are rarely implemented independently and are often used in conjunction with behavioural interventions. For example, when a man is circumcised, he will often be tested for HIV and receive counselling and education about condom use and safer sex. 11 Mother and infant on a PMTCT programme, Zimbabwe

Examples of biomedical interventions:

Structural interventions

Structural interventions seek to address underlying factors that make individuals or groups vulnerable to HIV infection. These can be social, economic, political or environmental.

“For many people, the simple fact that 90% of the world's HIV infections occur in developing countries is evidence that social, economic and political structures drive risk behaviours and shape vulnerability.” 13

Hijra celebrating a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court recognising transgender people as a distinct genderStructural interventions are much more difficult to implement because they attempt to deal with deep-rooted socio-economic issues such as poverty, gender inequality and social marginalisation. They can also be reliant on the cooperation of governments to achieve law or policy reforms.

For example, laws that criminalise same-sex relationships often hinder men who have sex with men from accessing condoms. A woman’s subordinate status can affect her ability to negotiate condom use while a lack of infrastructure such as transport, prevents many people from accessing health clinics. By successfully addressing these structural barriers, individuals are empowered and able to access HIV prevention services. 14

Examples of structural interventions:

  • Interventions addressing gender, economic and social inequality
  • Decriminalise sex work, homosexuality, drug use and the use of harm reduction services
  • Interventions to protect individuals from police harassment and violence
  • Laws protecting the rights of people living with HIV 15

A public health approach to combination prevention

More recently, some people have advocated for a public health approach to combination prevention. This involves using a combination of biomedical, behavioural and structural strategies to target currently available resources at high prevalence regions or 'hot spots', and high-risk groups. 16

For example, a combination of needle and syringe programmes, antiretroviral treatment, HIV testing and opioid substitution therapy in Tallinn, Estonia, was found to reduce HIV prevalence among PWID from 20.7 percent to 7.5 percent between 2005 and 2011. 17

Likewise, a study from South Africa has suggested that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) together with test and treat programmes could reduce HIV transmission among sex workers and their clients by 40 percent over a 10-year period. 18

Indeed, it is thought that targeting combination prevention initiatives at high-risk groups together with a scale-up in ART has the potential to reduce HIV prevalence from pandemic levels to low-endemic levels. 19

Where next?

References

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Page last reviewed: 
06/01/2015
Next review date: 
06/07/2016

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