Background: While the basic ethical issues regarding consent may be universal to all countries, the consent procedures required by international review boards which include detailed scientific and legal information, may not be optimal when administered within certain populations. The time and the technicalities of the process itself intimidate individuals in societies where literacy and awareness about medical and legal rights is low. Methods: In this study, we examined pregnant women's understanding of group education and counseling (GEC) about HIV/AIDS provided within an antenatal clinic in Maharashtra, India. We then enhanced the GEC process with the use of culturally appropriate visual aids and assessed the subsequent changes in women's understanding of informed consent issues. Results: We found the use of visual aids during group counseling sessions increased women's overall understanding of key issues regarding informed consent from 38% to 72%. Moreover, if these same visuals were reinforced during individual counseling, improvements in women's overall comprehension rose to 96%. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that complex constructs such as informed consent can be conveyed in populations with little education and within busy government hospital settings, and that the standard model may not be sufficient to ensure true informed consent.
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