The Roles of Behavioral and Social Science Research in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS: A Functional Framework

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Landmark advances have been made in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. These include proof-of-concept and public health implementation of preexposure prophylaxis and “treatment as prevention” to reduce HIV transmission as well as definitive evidence of the clinical gain from early antiretroviral treatment initiation. Significant progress has been made in understanding and addressing the social contexts and behavioral factors that impact HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions. These include facilitating uptake of testing and counseling, developing technology-based interventions that increase viral suppression, reducing HIV/AIDS-related stigma, and addressing other sociobehavioral and structural barriers to care and treatment. This evolving landscape provides an important juncture to assess current and future directions for HIV/AIDS behavioral and social science research (BSSR). We propose a functional framework for HIV/AIDS-related BSSR, highlighting 4 primary BSSR domains: (1) understanding vulnerable populations and contexts of risk (“Basic BSSR”); (2) improving behavioral and social factor approaches to risk reduction, prevention, and care (“Elemental BSSR”); (3) strengthening the design and outcomes of biomedically focused research in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention (“Supportive BSSR”); and (4) contributing building blocks to integrated HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment approaches (“Integrative BSSR”). These domains and their resulting confluence at the highest level underscore how fundamental and essential BSSR is to current and future efforts to prevent, treat, and cure HIV/AIDS.

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