It has been 30 years since the first case of HIV was discovered. Despite this, the world is still in desperate need of effective prevention tools. Most public health interventions are based on “awareness campaigns” that consist of billboards, television commercials, and radio jingles. Although these methods help promote general awareness, they do not provide comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission. Furthermore, few of these methods are researchbased and/or systematically tested.
To combat such issues, TeachAIDS, a nonprofit social venture, was formed through a unique alliance of the world’s best multidisciplinary experts. Spun out of Stanford University, TeachAIDS challenges these standards by utilizing a research-based process to develop culturally-sensitive HIV prevention software that is particularly impactful in countries where social and cultural barriers are obstacles to open discussion about HIV and AIDS.
Since 2005, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of education, public health, communications, human computer interaction, and medicine have been working together to develop the highest-quality HIV prevention tools.
The TeachAIDS software completely reimagines how HIV education can be delivered. Most AIDS education materials provide a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”. Research shows that memorization of such facts leads to a superficial understanding combined with the incorrect belief that the learner fully understands all the related concepts. Instead, the TeachAIDS approach uses a biology-based approach and couples it with culturally appropriate euphemisms.This allows learners to fully understand how transmission occurs, and, more importantly, reason through novel situations.
In many contexts, sex-and HIV-related topics are considered taboo and certain words and concepts cannot be discussed directly or depicted visually.
This has led to materials either being banned, unused, or incomplete. With the high stigma levels associated with HIV, educators and learners are often reticent to teach and discuss such materials openly. However, TeachAIDS’ innovative curriculum decouples HIV education from sex education, while still demonstrating comprehensive learning and astonishing retention levels of the basics around transmission. Based on years of extensive research, and careful testing of metaphors, analogies, and images, they are able to optimize clarity while tactfully addressing cultural taboos.
Some HIV prevention materials use fear-based techniques to communicate the importance of knowledge of transmission. However, this tactic can stigmatize learners, especially in high-risk populations. Meanwhile, the TeachAIDS biology-based curriculum has the opposite effect: the research reveals that learners are more accepting of HIV-positive people, even while learning more effectively how to protect themselves.
In each country, TeachAIDS works with reputable local partners to develop and disseminate the customized versions. In Botswana, where 23 percent of the population is HIV-positive, TeachAIDS partnered with their Ministry of Education and UNICEF, among others, to effectively combat HIV fatigue through a comprehensive and entertaining approach. The country named June 15th as their official “TeachAIDS Day”, and the software has been implemented into every school across the country.The TeachAIDS research versions are already used in 70 countries globally.
The goal for TeachAIDS over the next five years is to extend the software into 80 more languages versions, making it available to over 190 countries – thereby fully serving the regions that account for more than 90% of the world’s HIV-infected populations. Their prevention tools are becoming a standard for HIV prevention education around the world.
Russia has been identified as one of the target countries for which TeachAIDS wishes to develop software. I was happy to contribute to TeachAIDS preparing a Russian version and building a strategy plan.