HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers


Behavioural Prevention Interventions

Key Points

  • Behavioural interventions for HIV prevention seek to influence knowledge and attitudes, influence people’s perceived risk of acquiring HIV, and provide people with the motivation and skills they need to change their behaviours.
  • Behavioural prevention strategies need to be delivered with sufficient coverage, intensity and duration in order to be effective.
  • Community involvement is essential when developing behavioural interventions, to ensure that interventions are tailored to the specific needs of the target population.
  • Behavioural interventions are most effective when combined with biomedical and structural approaches to HIV prevention.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, the widespread delivery of effective strategies to change behaviour has been central to HIV prevention efforts in Canada and around the world. 

Behavioural HIV prevention interventions seek to influence knowledge and attitudes, help people to understand their risk of acquiring HIV, and provide the motivation and skills people need to change their sexual and drug-using behaviours that place them at risk for HIV. Behavioural strategies have various goals, including the following:

  • increasing the correct and consistent use of effective prevention strategies
  • encouraging people to get tested for HIV
  • influencing sexual behaviour (e.g. delaying the onset of first intercourse or decreasing the number of sex partners)

Behavioural strategies for HIV prevention can be targeted at multiple levels: individuals, couples, families, peer groups or networks, institutions and entire communities.

Interventions attempt to motivate behaviour change through a range of educational, motivational, peer-group, skills-building and community approaches.

For behaviour change efforts to be effective they need to reach a sufficiently large number of people, elicit behaviour change in the participants, and sustain the change for long periods of time.

It is important that behavioural interventions address the specific needs of the target population. Community involvement in the development of such interventions is essential. Achieving the right mix of behavioural approaches for a particular community depends on understanding the social context of the target population and adapting programs to meet their needs.

A mix of communication channels should be employed to disseminate clear and simple messages about risk-reduction and health-seeking options. People must be provided with options on how to reduce their risk, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Behavioural interventions seek to provide individuals with the knowledge and motivation to take action to reduce their risk behaviour. However, individual behaviour is often heavily influenced by factors outside of the individual’s control, including socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors. Although behavioural interventions are necessary, it is also important to address these structural factors. Behavioural interventions are most effective when combined with biomedical and structural approaches to HIV prevention.


What factors increase the effectiveness of behavioural interventions for HIV prevention?

Integrating HIV Prevention with Care: Behavioural Interventions in the Clinical Setting – National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases         


  1. Coates TJ, Richter L, Ceres C. Behavioural strategies to reduce HIV transmission: how to make them work better. The Lancet. 2008 August;372(9639):669–684.
  2. Global HIV Prevention Working Group. Behavior change and HIV prevention: [re] considerations for the 21st century. 2008. Available from:
  3. San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF)]. HIV evidence report: effective behavioral interventions for reducing HIV risk and transmission. San Francisco: SFAF; 2008. Available from: