Social media could be a valuable component in the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if the targeted population is engaged with the help of chats, massages and other available tools with the aim of changing their behaviour.
Combining social media with behavioural psychology prompt people to request at-home testing kits for the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), the findings showed.
“In other words, if you are a public health organisation or worker, do not just think that throwing something on Facebook or Twitter will be the solution and change people’s behaviour,” said Sean Young, assistant professor at the University of California in the US.
The study conducted in Peru found that participants in the intervention arm of a controlled clinical trial were more than twice as likely to be tested for HIV than those who joined a social media group and were provided with traditional HIV prevention services.
The intervention, called Harnessing Online Peer Education (HOPE), combined social media with behavioural psychology to encourage people in high-risk populations to get tested.
The experiment involved 556 participants who were randomly assigned to join a control group or an intervention group on Facebook for 12 weeks, with 278 assigned to each group.
The control group received standard offline HIV prevention and testing services, and participated in Facebook groups that provided study updates and HIV testing information.
The intervention group, by contrast, received the standard care and also incorporated the HOPE intervention behaviour change model, which utilised peer leaders who sent messages and wall posts, and engaged the participants in general friendly conversation.
The study was published in the journal Lancet HIV.