Social media helps in fighting AIDS and TB

THE fight against AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria requires innovative ways to expedite interventions that centre on expanding outreach to the affected populations, especially those in remote, developing countries. At the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) being held in Washington DC, experts from India, African nations and United States explained how they are reaching populations through new media - social media! The expert eluded to breakthroughs taking place in India, South Africa, Zambia, United States and Guatemala where doctors are having questions answered and patients are getting better treatment through e-learning. Apart from capacity of the medical personnel, technology has also been used to diagnose patients and administer treatment.

According to a presenter from Hi-Tech, a US based company, information has helped to improve the record keeping system using an electronic database instead the old fashioned ways of book keeping which could have got spoiled or lost. It also improves patient monitoring and adherence to treatment. “Through an SMS alert system, or an Internet based reminder, patients are reminded to take medication at the right time.”  This provision of a holistic continuum of care also covers tuberculosis (TB) coverage. For Solutions for Health based in United Kingdom (UK), it goes beyond HIV and TB by handling other factors that compromise the care like diabetes, smoking and probing for other chronic diseases.

“This 24 hours per day service also engages the client to work their treatment… they can record CD4 count, the viral load and manage other conditions like hypertension. The video and text chats are secure and strict privacy policies are adhered to,” says Solutions for Health. In India alone, over 1,400 participated in 36 sessions conducted for professionals who needed to know more about the provision of quality care and support for patients who had HIV, TB or other conditions. The program involved 24 speakers who conducted 18 visits.

In Africa, Dr Kwaku Yeboah from the Positive Community Impact which runs programs in India, South Africa, Zambia and Guatemala to provide community antiretroviral treatment support, cervical cancer screening, reporting systems against gender based violence and postnatal support. The program has recorded an encouraging 94 percent completion rate for clients who accessed AIDS services.

For advocacy purposes, social media has served an important role in mobilizing professionals to demand for the improvement of services in the sector. Research has shown increased internet usage by many people especially social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Even presidents, huge corporations and United Nations agencies are using them.

For community based organizations based in developing countries, these initiatives have proven to be cheaper ways of mobilizing people, accessing services or sharing information using mobile phones (SMS, email) or Internet. This has served as a one-stop shop for the provision of accurate information by the presidencies, corporations and community based organizations. They are cheaper to use, have no boundaries and provide feedbacks. The feedbacks are quantitative and qualitative. The number of responses gotten from posts and reports can show how people are responding to a certain cause or how organization can make their information more relevant to the populations they are serving. At the end of the day, social mobilization for all generations has been anchored in what one presenter concluded with: “Visualize, engage and evaluate.”

Henry Kabwe - CNS
(The author is a noted Zambian journalist and serves as the Executive Director of the Media Network on Child Rights and Development (MNCRD). He has earlier worked with The Monitor and the National Mirror in Lusaka specializing in child rights, HIV, health, environment and human rights. He has also worked as a Correspondent for the Voice of America (VOA). He is the former Chairperson of the Zambian Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa - MISA)