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Social models of HIV risk among young adults in Lesotho

Nicola L Bulled


Extensive research over the past 30 years has revealed that individual and social determinants impact HIV risk. Even so, prevention efforts focus primarily on individual behaviour change, with little recognition of the dynamic interplay of individual and social environment factors that further exacerbate risk engagement. Drawing on long-term research with young adults in Lesotho, I examine how social environment factors contribute to HIV risk. During preliminary ethnographic analysis, I developed novel scales to measure social control, adoption of modernity, and HIV knowledge. In survey research, I examined the effects of individual characteristics (i.e., socioeconomic status, HIV knowledge, adoption of modernity) and social environment (i.e., social control) on HIV risk behaviours. In addition, I measured the impact of altered environments by taking advantage of an existing situation whereby young adults attending a national college are assigned to either a main campus in a metropolitan setting or a satellite campus in a remote setting, irrespective of the environment in which they were socialised as youth. This arbitrary assignment process generates four distinct groups of young adults with altered or constant environments. Regression models show that lower levels of perceived social control and greater adoption of modernity are associated with HIV risk, controlling for other factors. The impact of social control and modernity varies with environment dynamics.

Keywords: globalisation, inequality, social modelling, social determinants, southern Africa