The HIV Pandemic Prevention Efforts Can Inform the COVID-19 Pandemic Response in the United States

Maria A. Carrasco, MPP, MPH, PhD; Kaitlyn Atkins, MPH; Ruth Young, MSc; Joseph G. Rosen, MSPH; Suzanne M. Grieb, PhD, MSPH; Vincent J. Wong, MSc; Paul J. Fleming, PhD, MPH


Am J Public Health. 2021;111(4):564-567. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Although COVID-19 is new, this is not the first time that we face an infectious disease pandemic. We need to use lessons from past pandemics, like the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to enhance the COVID-19 response. The HIV and COVID-19 pandemics expose gaps in the current US health care system and highlight the role of social determinants of health in transmission and outcomes. In addition, both pandemics have clear behavioral prevention strategies (i.e., condom use or sexual partner reduction for HIV and mask wearing or social distancing for COVID-19). These are important alone or as part of combination prevention, which adds biomedical strategies such as vaccines to the prevention toolbox. While we wait for biomedical breakthroughs to be widely available, an enhanced COVID-19 behavioral prevention response is essential. In this article, we highlight six specific prevention strategies implemented in the HIV response that could enhance the COVID-19 response in the United States:

  1. Address rumors and misconceptions;

  2. Help people determine their level of risk to take appropriate precautions;

  3. Implement prevention strategies that are targeted to vulnerable groups (i.e., key populations);

  4. Develop and disseminate clear, adaptive messages through multiple trusted communication channels;

  5. Implement widespread testing as a powerful prevention tool; and

  6. Engage behavioral scientists to help lead our response.