24/03/2018 16:54 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

Experts: Social media useful to control HIV/AIDS

Digital technology and social media are powerful in supporting Vietnam’s goal to eliminate HIV by 2030, heard a forum in Hanoi on March 23. 
 
The forum brought together representatives from the government, the private sector, and communities to discuss how to further integrate HIV services and support into the digital age. 
 
Dr Phan Thi Thu Huong, vice director of the Vietnam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control, said that over 50 percent of Vietnamese people have access to the internet, and a majority of them use social media. 
 
“We need to find creative ways to reach them through new and exciting social media channels,” she said. 
 
Le Minh Thanh, director of social enterprise G-link, said that our online community on social media provides a safe space for people at risk of HIV to learn and talk about safe sex and services such as HIV self-testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). 
 
“We can reach more people online and especially those who are afraid to discuss these topics publicly. We can then translate these online conversations into offline action,” Thanh said. 
 
“For example, we share online booking tools to link people at risk of HIV directly to services, guide them to our e-stores to purchase essentials such as condoms and lubricants, and help them to manage adherence to long-term prevention methods such as PrEP with the iPrEP app on their mobile phones,” he added. 
 
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and PATH, an international non-profit health organization, initiated a Healthy Markets project that aims to grow a viable market for HIV-related goods and services capable of meeting the needs of people facing the greatest risks. 
 
The project is working with local civil society organizations such as G-link, Lighthouse and Vsmile to test and scale online tools such as the Rainbow Village and Be Me.Be Sexy! Facebook communities and the I Reserve app. 
 
I Reserve app, for example, has helped nearly 500 people make appointments for HIV testing and counselling since last year. 
 
Among those who use the app, 12.5 per cent were diagnosed with HIV - an HIV-positive rate that is twice as high as that seen through face-to-face referrals. This demonstrates that online tools offer effective ways to engage those most at risk of HIV. 
 
Dr John Eyres, USAID Health Office Director, believed that with the introduction of forward-thinking methods such as community-based HIV testing and PrEP, Vietnam is known as an early adopter of innovative ways to prevent and manage HIV. 
 
Cutting edge online initiatives that are driven by communities, civil society groups, entrepreneurs, and businesses are boosting the uptake of HIV testing, PrEP, and essential products such as condoms, and are playing a critical role in Vietnam’s efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 goals, he said.-VNA/VNP