AIDS C’ssion Turns to Social Media

Jacob Sackey giving the opening address at the Ghana AIDS Commission forum

The Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), in its quest to prevent the spread of HIV among young people, has incorporated the use of social media to educate and raise awareness.

For the past four years, GAC used social media and social network platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Badoo as tools to prevent the spread and stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS, according to the Associate Director of Technology of GAC, Nana Ofosua Clement.

She was speaking at the third National Strategic Information Dissemination Forum held by GAC at the Mensvic Hotel in Accra to explain and analyse the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other STIs for the year of 2013.

In cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ghana, Ofosua Clement worked on a project called Strengthening HIV and AIDS Response Partnership with Evidence-Based Results (SHARPER).

According to her, the project, conducted from February 2010 to December 2014, was intended to improve the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of those at risk for contracted HIV/AIDS, increase use of STI screening/treatment and HIV care treatment services, and strengthen the human and institutional capacity for HIV/AIDS programme implementers.

Starting in 2012, with the goal of assisting people who were not reached through peer education and outreach, SHARPER developed a new, progressive initiative to target the group that is considered to be most at risk: men who engage in homosexual sex. The programme uses three main approaches.

The first approach is an outreach on social media through community liaison officers, who were recruited by their own counsellors after going to a testing and treatment centre themselves.

The second approach was through social network testing, which reached a large number of HIV-positive at-risk youth, who would not have otherwise responded to peer-education.

The third was direct outreach to male sex worker networks.

In 2013, 15,291 at-risk men were reached through social media and social networks, with only an 18%-27% overlap between the various methods of outreach.

Dr Stephen Ayisi-Addo, Acting Programme Manager for the National AIDS/STI Control Programme, gave a summary on HIV/AIDS prevalence and estimates, and explained that the mean rate of HIV prevalence has been the lowest in the 15-24 year-old age group consistently since in 2010.

While the results of the SHARPER project may seem relatively small, the objectives were developed to complement the overall movement in education for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

According to the reports, the overall prevalence of HIV/AIDS in all age groups in Ghana decreased from 1.37% in 2012 to 1.3% in 2013.

By Azia Calderhead and Esther Osei-Bonsu

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