Young people: knowledge about HIV prevention

Export Indicator

Percentage of women and men 15–24 years old who correctly identify both ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV and reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission
What it measures

Progress towards universal knowledge of the essential facts about HIV transmission


HIV epidemics are perpetuated primarily through the sexual transmission of infection to successive generations of young people. Sound knowledge about HIV and AIDS is necessary (although often insufficient) for adopting behaviour that reduces the risk of HIV transmission.


Number of respondents 15–24 years old who correctly answered all five questions


Number of all respondents 15–24 years old



Method of measurement

Population-based surveys (Demographic and Health Survey, AIDS Indicator Survey, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey or other representative survey)

This indicator is constructed from responses to the following set of prompted questions:

  1. Can the risk of HIV transmission be reduced by having sex with only one uninfected partner who has no other partners?
  2. Can a person reduce the risk of getting HIV by using a condom every time they have sex?
  3. Can a healthy-looking person have HIV?
  4. Can a person get HIV from mosquito bites?
  5. Can a person get HIV by sharing food with someone who is infected?
Measurement frequency

Preferred: every two years; minimum: every 3–5 years

  • Age (15–19 and 20–24 years) 
  • Sex (male, female)
Explanation of the numerator

The first three questions should not be altered. Questions 4 and 5 ask about local misconceptions and may be replaced by the most common misconceptions in your country. Examples include: “Can a person get HIV by hugging or shaking hands with a person who is infected?” and “Can a person get HIV through supernatural means?”

Those who have never heard of HIV and AIDS should be excluded from the numerator but included in the denominator. An answer of “don’t know” should be recorded as an incorrect answer.

Scores for each of the individual questions (based on the same denominator) are required as well as the score for the composite indicator.

Strengths and weaknesses

The belief that a person who looks healthy cannot be living with HIV is a common misconception that can result in unprotected sexual intercourse with infected partners. Rejecting major misconceptions about the modes of HIV transmission is as important as correct knowledge of the actual modes of transmission. For example, belief that HIV is transmitted through mosquito bites can weaken motivation to adopt safer sexual behaviour, and belief that HIV can be transmitted through sharing food reinforces the stigma faced by people living with HIV.

This indicator is especially useful in countries in which knowledge about HIV and AIDS is poor because it enables easy measurement of incremental improvements over time. However, it is also important in other countries, since it can be used to ensure that pre-existing high levels of knowledge are maintained.

Further information

Demographic and Health Survey and AIDS Indicator Survey methods and survey instruments (