Last week, thousands of policymakers, scientists, delegates, advocates, and persons living with HIV/AIDS gathered together in Washington, DC for the 2012 International AIDS Conference* to address an end this global epidemic.
As continuously discussed, social technology is becoming an increasingly powerful tool in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. In fact, organizations are using social media and mobile devices to advocate, educate, prevent and potentially even test for HIV transmission.
Here are just a few examples:
ADVOCATE: HIV/AIDS charities are increasingly turning to social media to drum up support, donations, and even tangible ideas for tackling the disease. Last year, for example, UNAIDS adopted a groundbreaking approach to engage young people in the AIDS response—CrowdOutAIDS—an online project which used social media and online tools to develop the first ever crowd-sourced strategy document in the history of the United Nations. The document provides a set of recommendations that the UNAIDS Secretariat should undertake to collaborate more effectively with a new generation of leaders in the AIDS response.
EDUCATE: By tapping into online platforms frequently visited by individuals most at-risk for contracting HIV, advocates are effectively working to change the behavior of these populations. “The challenge in online HIV prevention is designing something that’s engaging and interesting,” said Simon Rosser, lead researcher and director of the University of Minnesota’s HIV/STI Intervention and Prevention Studies Program to the Minnesota Star Tribune. “If no one comes to your programs, it’s a problem.” As a result, University of Minnesota developed a slightly controversial “sexually explicit, interactive gaming and information website” called Sexpulse to educate gay men about HIV. The study found that pamphlets and flyers are not nearly as effective as digital material specifically marketed to these populations.
PREVENT: Experts are also connecting to millions via social networks like Facebook to provide HIV preventative services. Aids.gov, for example, recently developed a Facebook app with a HIV/AIDS Prevention and Service Provider Locator (the Locator). The Locator features HIV testing, housing assistance, health centers, Ryan White HIV care facilities, mental health clinics, substance abuse services, and family planning locations. Each of these services is plotted on the map, based either on your location or the zip code or city/state you provide in the search box.
TEST FOR HIV: If you can believe it or not, we may soon have a mobile app to help test for HIV. A US engineering professor at UCLA is working to develop an extremely compact and cost-effective microscope that could fit at the back of a cell phone. Such innovations would allow for HIV patients in resource-limited setting measure their cell count easily and effectively. The device, which is said to be ready for use in a few years, will be available for less than US$10.
What do you think? What other campaigns and/or examples are effectively using social media to help combat HIV/AIDS worldwide?
*Note: This is the first time in 22 years that the conference has been held in the United States. It was not held here because for many years the United States barred most HIV-positive travelers from entering the country. The ban was lifted in 2010.