Social Media Messaging for HIV Testing in Zimbabwe

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Investigator: Marguerita A. Lightfoot, PhD
Sponsor: NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Location(s): Zimbabwe

Description

Zimbabwe is one of the countries hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, with more than 1.18 million people living with HIV and AIDS. However, HIV testing among adolescents is low. The proposed study will test an intervention that involves current clients at a youth-friendly medical clinic disseminating through social media (i.e., text messaging, social networks) a message to their friends encouraging them to get tested. The proposed study can address the extraordinary need for sustainable strategies for HIV testing for adolescents in low- and middle-income countries.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, with more than 1.18 million people living with HIV and AIDS and an HIV prevalence of 14.3% in the adult population aged 15 - 49 years. However, only 57% of women and 36% of men had been tested for HIV and received their results. Although these numbers are low, they are lower among adolescents, with 45% of young women and 24% of young men who had sexual intercourse in the preceding 12 months having been tested for HIV and received their result. Thus, the identification of novel strategies for HIV testing among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa is paramount. The proposed study makes a significant public health impact by examining an innovative strategy to increase the number of high-risk adolescents receiving HIV screening and then subsequently be linked to prevention, care and treatment services. We propose a research study to examine the efficacy of a peer-driven, social media HIV-testing campaign through the use of social networks. A total of 12 communities will be randomly allocated in matched pairs to receive a community-level, peer-driven HIV testing campaign compared to standard voluntary counseling and testing for HIV. Data will be collected at the only youth-centered and oriented health clinic in the geographic area. Youth, aged 16 - 24 years, from intervention communities will be recruited while at the clinic to disseminate at least 5 text messages to friends living in their neighborhood that they believe to be sexually active. The aims of the study are to examine the efficacy of the intervention to increase the number of youth testing for HIV, increase the efficacy of the intervention to increase the proportion of high-risk youth identified and examine the feasibility and acceptability of a peer-driven linkage-to-care and retention support strategy.