Notice of Special Interest: Advancing Health Communication Research on HIV Prevention, Treatment and Cure

Funding Agency:
National Institutes of Health

The National Institute of Mental Health is issuing this Notice to highlight interest in research applications to optimize health communication strategies that advance HIV prevention, treatment and cure.

Health communication science has made pivotal contributions to HIV prevention and treatment efforts. Early media campaigns that promoted condom use and HIV testing proved to be positive influences on knowledge, attitudes and social norms. Increased use of client-centered communication in HIV treatment settings, contributed to greater antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and retention in care. Communication strategies that leveraged strengths-based messages about resilience, empowerment and “living with HIV”, helped dispel harmful stereotypes and stigmatizing messages that connoted HIV with a death sentence. A better understanding of how various communication channels influence HIV behavior change at the individual, interpersonal and community levels, as well as how effective health communication is deployed at each stage of the HIV care continuum, continue to be critical scientific competencies for advancing HIV prevention, treatment and cure efforts across the lifespan.

Health research is knowledge-driven and requires public health professionals to continuously learn, make informed decisions, and communicate clinical knowledge that is rapidly changing and evolving. Today there is a growing set of evidence-based tools for HIV prevention and treatment and more in the research pipeline. Innovative and strategic communication approaches are needed to bridge the gap between scientific discovery and public engagement. The benefits of proven HIV prevention methods like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the future promise of a safe and effective HIV vaccine can be maximized if integrated with effective communication approaches that prioritize the needs of those placed at highest risk. Knowledge translation and dissemination strategies that leverage sustainable and reciprocal partnerships between researchers, practitioners, people living with HIV (PLHIV), community members, policymakers, and other key stakeholders – are critical for ensuring that evidence-based, HIV-related health information is inclusive, accessible and able to be implemented.

The rapid growth of digital media has been revolutionary for health communication. New communication technologies enable global communities to connect about HIV in ways that might otherwise be impossible due to geography, lack of common language or other structural and/or social barriers. The advent of social media and widespread use of smartphones encourages real-time consumer health engagement through instantaneous message dissemination, social networking, and mobile health apps that address HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care. And while the ability to communicate electronically offers many health benefits, digital communication also presents the field with new challenges. In some instances, innovations in telemedicine have provided convenient alternatives to clinic visits for HIV care, while in other instances it has highlighted the importance of human contact for patient-provider rapport and protecting information privacy. A proliferation of internet and social media-based misinformation, poor-quality information, and siloed communication channels (e.g. echo chambers), has the potential to negatively impact mental health, decision-making, stoke medical distrust, and thwart current and future scientific advances in HIV. In addition, a growing reliance on health communication technologies has the potential to exacerbate existing health disparities among those with limited broadband access, poor digital literacy, or a lack of technology resources and infrastructure.

Optimizing health communication approaches in HIV care settings is also important for mental health. Cultivating acceptance, fostering collaborative decision-making and building trust between patients and providers fosters mental wellbeing of PLHIV and their caregivers. Ineffective patient-provider communication contributes to low levels of trust, dissatisfaction with healthcare systems and poor HIV-related outcomes. Past experiences of discrimination, intolerance and stigmatizing behaviors have led to patient reluctance to disclose sexual history and sexual orientation with providers. Low provider trust has also been shown to negatively influence HIV prevention screening, PrEP access and ART adherence. Contrarily, increased provider trust has been associated with greater access and willingness to take PrEP and greater willingness to participate in future HIV clinical trials. To improve clinical care outcomes, there remains a need to cultivate innovative approaches to care that integrate culturally sensitive, and client-driven communication strategies that prioritize respect between PLHIV, practitioners, and community members, and recognizes the integral need to strengthen patient-provider engagement.

To address knowledge gaps that will improve HIV outcomes, NIMH calls for research that will improve scientific understanding of health communication as it relates to ongoing HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure efforts, as well as research on communication, dissemination and implementation factors that are required for successful public understanding, acceptance and uptake of HIV-related interventions.

This notice applies to due dates on or after April 8, 2021 and subsequent receipt dates through May 8, 2024.


Agency Website

Amount Description


Funding Type





Medical - Basic Science
Medical - Clinical Science
Medical - Translational

External Deadline

May 7, 2024