Information, attitudes, perceptions, and symbolic representations of AIDS risk and prevention among poor adolescents in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Edgar Merchán-Hamann About the author

Four hundred and sixteen poor adolescents of both sexes in Rio de Janeiro were interviewed to study both their level of information and symbolic representations concerning AIDS risk and prevention. The most common source of information on HIV/AIDS was the mass media, particularly television broadcasts. There were doubts and lack of trust regarding official government information on HIV/AIDS. Nearly 70% of the adolescents interviewed believe in HIV transmission through mosquito bites and some 40% through casual contact with wounds or scars or sharing of bathroom utensils. Men seemed to show a greater awareness and autonomy vis-à-vis taking initiatives in sex encounters. Attitudes of segregation and exclusion of people with AIDS persist. Lack of prevention was attributed to the impossibility of predicting sexual encounters. The study of symbolic aspects concerning causes of HIV/AIDS displayed broad variability: 80% of the interviewees associated AIDS with excesses in sexual behavior and 40% with homosexual practices. Causal images vary from the predominant view of AIDS as unfair punishment to the less frequent stance considering AIDS as fair punishment (due to sinful behavior). An ambiguous attitude towards transgression (taking as its sterotype the figure of Rio's "malandro", or "streetwise dude") may influence perception of risk and prevention. The paper calls attention to the need for implementing clearer and more direct educational programs. This could be useful for the implementation of culturally sensitive control measures through a reshaping of AIDS symbols. The author recommends a better understanding of the social and economic determinants of disease and reinforcement of the kinds of discourse which empower and raise the self-esteem of poor adolescents by endorsing their civil rights.

AIDS; Adolescents; Attitudes; Perceptions

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