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J Int AIDS Soc. 2012 Jun 14;15 Suppl 1:1-10. doi: 10.7448/IAS.15.3.17367.

HIV prevention, structural change and social values: the need for an explicit normative approach.

Author information

  • Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom. justin.parkhurst@lshtm.ac.uk.



The fact that HIV prevention often deals with politicised sexual and drug taking behaviour is well known, but structural HIV prevention interventions in particular can involve alteration of social arrangements over which there may be further contested values at stake. As such, normative frameworks are required to inform HIV prevention decisions and avoid conflicts between social goals.


This paper provides a conceptual review and discussion of the normative issues surrounding structural HIV prevention strategies. It applies political and ethical concepts to explore the contested nature of HIV planning and suggests conceptual frameworks to inform future structural HIV responses.


HIV prevention is an activity that cannot be pursued without making value judgements; it is inherently political. Appeals to health outcomes alone are insufficient when intervention strategies have broader social impacts, or when incidence reduction can be achieved at the expense of other social values such as freedom, equality, or economic growth. This is illustrated by the widespread unacceptability of forced isolation which may be efficacious in preventing spread of infectious agents, but conflicts with other social values.


While no universal value system exists, the capability approach provides one potential framework to help overcome seeming contradictions or value trade-offs in structural HIV prevention approaches. However, even within the capability approach, valuations must still be made. Making normative values explicit in decision making processes is required to ensure transparency, accountability, and representativeness of the public interest, while ensuring structural HIV prevention efforts align with broader social development goals as well.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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