We are excited by this reduction in HIV infections and hope that this success can continue and that we can continue to reduce infections and deaths, with the eventual goal of HIV/AIDS eradication in Africa.
HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including syphilis and gonorrhea, continue to spread in high-income countries such as Canada, Australia, the U.S. and in Western Europe, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM).
A key part of prevention efforts is to offer HIV testing so that people can know their status and take steps to protect themselves and others. If they are negative, they can be counselled about safer sex and the need for regular screening for HIV and other STIs. If positive, they can receive counselling and swift referral for medical monitoring and discussion about the benefits of starting treatment for their personal health. Another benefit of treatment is that it reduces the amount of HIV in a person’s blood and genital fluids, thus reducing their sexual infectiousness.
The popularity of electronic social networking sites and so-called smartphones has resulted in the growth of virtual communities that are ripe for communicating messages about healthier living, including HIV prevention. Such sites and technologies are used by some people to find sexual partners, therefore they are of growing importance for the encouragement of healthy behaviours.
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) conducted a study called HOPE—harnessing online peer education. They trained participants to deliver HIV prevention messages and related issues via the social networking site Facebook. The researchers found that participants who received such messages were more likely to request home-based HIV testing kits and get tested. Also, reductions in unsafe sexual behaviour occurred among some participants.
These results, which need to be confirmed in a larger, longer study, suggest that more researchers need to consider and evaluate engagement with electronic social networks and associated technologies (such as smartphones) to help people lead healthier lives.
Engagement was generally good in all groups throughout the 12 weeks of the study.
More participants who received messages about HIV prevention and testing (44%) requested an HIV home-testing kit than participants who received general health messages (20%).
Researchers found that participants who received HIV prevention messages had fewer sexual partners over time than other participants.
Points to consider
The HOPE study shows that it is possible to engage relatively young MSM about HIV prevention via social networking.Some participants were willing to accept the offer of HIV testing.93% of participants remained in the study until its end.Changes in unsafe sexual behaviour were seen among one ethno-racial group.
New social networking technologies could also be used to help create healthier communities and reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Slate Magazine (blog) Elton John Tackles the HIV Stigma Slate Magazine (blog) It is stigma that keeps us form doing what is necessary to end this epidemic. It is stigma that keeps us from confronting reality.
Kristen Schaffer's insight:
Celebrity involvement in a cause can have a major influence.