While overall HIV prevalence in Malawi has decreased, it is still high in the southern region of the country. Behavioral prevention activities are crucial to continue the reduction in HIV prevalence. Behavior change is influenced by many factors. Previous work indicates knowledge about HIV transmission, self-efficacy to protect oneself from exposure, and accurate risk perception of one's susceptibility all impact sexual behavior. The current study looks at the effects of a behavior change communication program in Malawi called the BRIDGE II Project on psychosocial and behavioral variables. The program sought to address barriers to individual action and confront societal norms related to sexual risk behavior through a mix of community-based activities and mass media messages delivered through local radio stations. Using cohort data (n = 594), we examined the effect of BRIDGE exposure on three variables that affect HIV behaviors: knowledge, self-efficacy, and risk perception, as well as two behavioral outcomes: HIV testing and condom use at last sex. Data were collected at baseline and for a midterm evaluation. Regression analyses showed exposure to BRIDGE was significantly associated with knowledge level (β = 0.20, p < .001) and self-efficacy (β = 0.35, p < .001) at midterm when controlling for baseline scores, but not risk perception. Psychosocial variables did not show a significant relationship to either behavioral outcome. However, program exposure was a significant predictor of both HIV testing in the past year (odds ratio [OR] = 1.40, p < .001) and condom use at last sex (OR = 1.26, p < .05). This study suggests such a communication intervention may play an important role in not only affecting HIV-related behaviors themselves, but also critical factors that affect HIV behaviors, including knowledge and self-efficacy. It is recommended that communication efforts around HIV risk reduction be increased.
Keywords: HIV testing; Malawi; communication; condom use; prevention.