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22 December 2005
AIDS Prevention Campaigns Based On Fear Ineffective
by George Atkinson

A new study has shown that the most familiar form of safe-sex campaign — consisting of radio and television ads reminding people of the dangers of AIDS — has no effect on condom use. The researchers concluded that ads focusing on making people aware of their risk or increasing their level of fear were not effective. Instead, they suggest that successful campaigns should be geared towards specific groups such as gay men, and include techniques of condom use under specific conditions.

The study, published in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin, was conducted by University of Florida researchers who reviewed the results of 354 HIV prevention programs conducted over the last 18 years. "Campaigns that do not get people to clearly imagine the situations in which they will be having sex do not increase condom use," said researcher Dolores Albarracín.

"The approach has to be realistic; it has to anticipate the real problems of the individuals in that situation, such as being drunk or high. The reason that people don't use condoms is not that they don't know they should, everybody has heard that by now. They don't use them because it's not always easy. You have to help them attain new behavioral skills that allow them to overcome the obstacles impeding condom use," she added.

Rather than fear campaigns, the researchers suggest specific programs based on gender, age, ethnicity and sexual preference, which they believe can increase condom use across all demographic groups. While women can benefit from participating in discussions on the merits of condom use and learning the facts on HIV/AIDS, men need hands-on training and access to condoms before they will practice safe sex. Gay men, intravenous drug users and people with multiple sex partners all seem to benefit most from receiving information, being supplied with condoms, and training in how to succeed at condom use given the multiple obstacles, the researchers noted.

Albarracín admitted that this new style of prevention program was harder to implement. "There are many pressures to not implement these programs, particularly in schools, because policy makers are concerned that such an approach may have negative moral consequences," she said. "The big message is you need to go with active and very realistic strategies. Teach them to anticipate the difficulties they are likely to experience. Show them how to apply condoms or practice how to bring it up in conversation. Until we find a cure for HIV/AIDS, this is the best vaccine we have."

Based on material from the University of Florida




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