Taking culture seriously in biomedical HIV prevention trials: a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies

Expert Rev Vaccines. 2016;15(3):331-47. doi: 10.1586/14760584.2016.1118349. Epub 2015 Dec 2.


A substantial gap exists between widespread acknowledgement of the importance of incorporating cultural sensitivity in biomedical HIV prevention trials and empirical evidence to guide the operationalization of cultural sensitivity in these trials. We conducted a systematic literature search and qualitative meta-synthesis to explore how culture is conceptualized and operationalized in global biomedical HIV prevention trials. Across 29 studies, the majority (n = 17) were conducted in resource-limited settings. We identified four overarching themes: (1) semantic cultural sensitivity - challenges in communicating scientific terminology into local vernaculars; (2) instrumental cultural sensitivity - understanding historical experiences to guide tailoring of trial activities; (3) budgetary, logistical, and personnel implications of operationalizing cultural sensitivity; and (4) culture as an asset. Future investigations should address how sociocultural considerations are operationalized across the spectrum of trial preparedness, implementation, and dissemination in particular sociocultural contexts, including intervention studies and evaluations of the effectiveness of methods used to operationalize culturally sensitive practices.

Keywords: HIV prevention trials; HIV vaccines; clinical trials; cultural competency; cultural sensitivity; microbicides; qualitative meta-synthesis; resource-limited settings; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • AIDS Vaccines / immunology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Global Health
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Sociological Factors


  • AIDS Vaccines