Individual health behaviours to combat the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons from HIV socio-behavioural science

Jessica E. Haberer, Ariane van der Straten, Steven A. Safren, Mallory O. Johnson, K. Rivet Amico, Carlos del Rio, Michele Andrasik, Ira B. Wilson, Jane M. Simoni

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: COVID-19 parallels HIV in many ways. Socio-behavioural science has been critical in elucidating the context and factors surrounding individual levels of engagement with known effective prevention and treatment tools for HIV, thus offering important lessons for ongoing efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussion: Non-adherence to effective disease mitigation strategies (e.g. condoms for HIV and masks for COVID-19) can be attributed in part to prioritizing comfort, convenience and individual autonomy over public health. Importantly, misinformation can fuel denialism and conspiracies that discredit scientific knowledge and motivate nonadherence. These preferences and the extent to which individuals can act on their preferences may be constrained by the structures and culture in which they live. Both HIV and COVID-19 have been politicized and influenced by evolving recommendations from scientists, clinicians, policymakers and politically motivated organizations. While vaccines are vital for ending both pandemics, their impact will depend on availability and uptake. Four decades of experience with the HIV epidemic have shown that information alone is insufficient to overcome these challenges; interventions must address the underlying, often complex factors that influence human behaviour. This article builds from socio-behavioural science theory and describes practical and successful approaches to enable and support adherence to prevention and treatment strategies, including vaccine adoption. Key methods include reframing tools to enhance motivation, promoting centralized sources of trusted information, strategic development and messaging with and within key populations (e.g. through social media) and appealing to self-empowerment, altruism and informed decision making. Orchestrated evidence-based activism is needed to overcome manipulative politicization, while consistent transparent messaging around scientific discoveries and clinical recommendations are critical for public acceptance and support. Ultimately, the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines will depend on our ability to engender trust in the communities most affected. Conclusions: Many lessons learned from socio-behavioural science in the HIV pandemic are applicable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individual behaviour must be understood within its interpersonal and societal context to address the current barriers to adherence to disease-mitigating strategies and promote an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to be endured for the foreseeable future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere25771
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
Volume24
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • behavioural science
  • COVID-19
  • HIV
  • public health
  • social science
  • vaccine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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