Potential Contribution of the Social Representations Theory to HIV Prevention in Uganda: Theoretical and Empirical Issues
Behavioural change responses to prevent HIV known as ABC (A= Abstinence; B=be Faithful;
C=Condom use) in Uganda are widely acclaimed nationally and internationally. However, to
date little is known about the mechanisms by which behavioural changes occur, specifically
among traditionally high-risk groups like sex workers. Despite possessing accurate knowledge
about ABC, these groups experience very high rates of HIV infection still unexplained
empirically. Based on a literature review, this paper proposes that the social representations
theory (SRT) can inform research into the mechanisms of behavioural change, particularly
social representations or worldviews underlying local sexual practices. This understanding can
improve efforts in non-European contexts seeking to motivate individual competencies to
change risky sexual attitudes and relations. Existing HIV approaches study mainly interindividual
cognitive differences regarding HIV responses creating theoretical and empirical
problems obscuring the analysis of culturally sensitive meanings shaping local competence in
real world conditions. SRT, which primarily analyses the mechanisms through which scientific
ideas like ABC are translated into ordinary thinking, can inform empirical investigations about
worldviews shaping meanings that enhance or discourage changing risky sexual relations.
Researchers can develop tools to operationalise the social and cognitive aspects of SRT to
improve understandings of behavioural change processes and enhance the efficacy of ABC.
Despite limitations, SRT opens up a wider space for social research regarding behavioural
change responses, key to HIV prevention in countries facing extreme poverty and very high
birth rates, particularly Uganda.