Feature story

ICASA 2008: Social change needed to reduce HIV risk and vulnerability

07 December 2008

Credit: Jacky Ly

Social issues like gender inequality, violence against women and the criminalization of activities like sex work, injecting drug use and same sex intercourse are factors that can make people more vulnerable to HIV infection. To discuss the challenges of social drivers, UNAIDS Secretariat, UNESCO and the Social Change Communication Working Group held a satellite session at ICASA on Sunday 7 December.

“Programmes to address these social or “structural” factors that make people more vulnerable to HIV take time to produce results. It is urgent that they be adapted to communities’ local needs and be implemented, evaluated, and continuously improved as core parts of national AIDS strategies, operational plans and budgets,”  said Barbara de Zalduondo, UNAIDS Chief Division of programmatic priorities support.

Barbara de Zalduondo, UNAIDS Chief Division of programmatic priorities support. Credit: Jacky Ly

UNAIDS consultations in more than 120 countries in 2006 revealed that many obstacles to effective HIV programmes are down to social, legal and political reasons rather than strictly technical ones. Gender inequality and violence against women is a large factor. As is the approach of criminalization of activities such as sex work, injecting drug use and same sex intercourse. The persistence of HIV-related stigma and other violations of human rights are also obstacles.

These social challenges are not new. Although well documented for over two decades, all too often they are not addressed by concrete programmes on a large enough scale in national and sub-national responses to AIDS.

For this reason, the ICASA session brought together experts who have designed, implemented, and measured successful programmes to address gender inequality, sexual violence, HIV related stigma and discrimination and other violations of human rights in multiple African contexts. The experts illustrated programme approaches which go beyond building individual knowledge and motivation to also tackle laws, policies and social norms.

The satellite session was an opportunity for HIV programme planners and and community advocates and donors to discuss effective HIV programming.

Participants shared examples of programmes that are catalyzing and supporting change in harmful social norms, which they can consider for application or adaptation at home.

Experts also exchanged information on existing tools for measuring HIV related stigma and discrimination, gender inequitable norms, and concurrent sexual partnerships. Also, programme examples and evaluation methods and data, were shared and discussed.

The 15th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) closes today in Dakar. Over the last few days, hundreds of African and international delegates have held discussions on HIV developments and trends in the region.

Related feature stories


Interview with Rayhana Rasool from Soul City South Africa

External links:

Official web site of ICASA 2008