Theoretical underpinnings of programs

Utilize social learning theories as the foundation of the program. Experience has shown social learning theories to be a common foundation for effective HIV/AIDS prevention and broader sexual health education programs. Some common elements exist across these theories, including the importance of personalising information and probability of risks, increasing motivation and readiness for change/action, understanding and influencing peers and social norms, enhancing personal skills and attitudes and ability to take action, and developing enabling environments through supportive policies and service delivery.

More than information

Make decisions about the information, attitudes, and skills to include in the program content on the basis of relevance to preventing HIV/AIDS risk and developing protective behaviours. Programs that address a balance of knowledge, attitudes, and skills such as communication, negotiation, and refusal skills, have been most successful in changing behaviour. Programs with a heavy emphasis on (biological) information have had more limited impact on enhancing attitudes and skills, and reducing risk behaviour. Examples of risk factors for HIV/AIDS which need to be addressed include ignorance, discriminatory attitudes to those affected by HIV/AIDS, or lack of access or use of condoms. Examples of protective factors include accessing accurate information, developing positive personal values and peer groups that support safe behaviour, identifying a trusted adult for support, utilizing health services, and using condoms if sexually active.


Ensure an understanding of HIV/AIDS, characteristics of individuals, the social context, and the interrelationship of these factors within program content. Programs that address just one of these components risk neglecting other significant influences which can limit success. Information is necessary but not sufficient to prevent HIV/AIDS. The values, attitudes, and behaviours of the community as well as the individual need to be addressed along with the basic facts. Responsible decisions by learners are more likely where peer and community groups demonstrate responsible attitudes and/or safe behaviour. Therefore, reinforcing clear values against risk behaviour and strengthening individual values and group norms among teachers, parents, and other gate keepers as well as students, is central to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.