Socio-cultural Approaches to HIV & AIDS

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UNESCO advocates for responses to HIV and AIDS that are culturally appropriate, gender and age responsive, grounded in human rights and involve people living with HIV at all stages.

Support for socio-cultural approaches is provided through action-oriented research, training, capacity building and the development of a wide range of resources and tools.

Understanding what motivates peoples’ behaviours, knowing how to address these motivations appropriately, and taking into consideration peoples’ cultures when developing programmes addressing HIV and AIDS are essential to changing behaviours and attitudes towards HIV and AIDS.

Assessment and Research

Definitions and Applications of Culturally Appropriate Responses to HIV and AIDS

Recognizing that “culturally appropriate” interventions vary greatly in form and definition, UNESCO collaborated with the Swiss Tropical Institute to identify and analyse current applications in circulation and practice.

With the on-going need to improve the effectiveness of HIV and AIDS responses has come the recognition that the cultural appropriateness of these programs is crucial to their long-term success. The acknowledgement that responses must integrate both cultural and structural concerns has resulted from observations that conventional public health prevention and awareness campaigns have largely failed to reduce the transmission of HIV. Yet, ambiguity surrounding how to design and implement culturally appropriate projects has made it more difficult to develop programmes in this manner. To address this, UNESCO commissioned the Swiss Tropical Institute's (STI) Centre for International Health to identify and analyse current applications and definitions of culturally appropriate approaches in response to HIV and AIDS with a special focus on Sub-Saharan Africa.

Findings revealed that indeed very little concrete guidance exists and harmonisation of approaches has not been achieved. Responding to these recommendations, UNESCO has since developed a number of training manuals and toolkits to provide greater clarity concerning the development and implementation of culturally appropriate approaches.


Regional Survey Identifying Priorities, Needs and Gaps Impacting HIV and AIDS Policies: Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zambia

Policy-makers, civil society organizations (CSOs) and research institutes in four countries were interviewed to gain a greater understanding of the priorities and needs required for the development of more comprehensive HIV and AIDS policies in the southern Africa region.

This regional survey was conducted within the framework of UNESCO’s project "Strengthening national policies and priorities among Ministries in sub-Saharan Africa". The overarching goal of this project is to strengthen the ability and resources of policy-makers in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zambia to formulate and evaluate policies addressing HIV and AIDS which adequately take culture into account. To this end, the project focuses on enabling effective inter-sectoral, inter-ministerial, and inter-country collaboration as well as opportunities for increased knowledge sharing.

Greater inter-ministerial cooperation enhances culturally appropriateness in that it recognizes how health is not simply a biomedical concern but rather something embedded within and heavily influenced by social, cultural and other structural factors. Strengthening mechanisms for exchange and feedback among local researchers, national Ministries, CSOs and the greater public is considered vital for building internal capacity to respond to the epidemic in a manner that is tailored to the national context.

In order to gain a greater understanding of the priorities and needs required for the development of comprehensive HIV and AIDS policies, UNESCO commissioned a multi-national survey to solicit the views of policy-makers, CSOs and research institutes in each country. Questions were structured around three topic areas that explored how inter-ministerial collaboration functions, how public dialogue plays a role in policy formation and how CSOs can play a greater role in building national HIV and AIDS research capacity.



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