Impact of Social Media on HIV/AIDS Awareness

Imagine you just found out that there is a virus around you, which can be transmitted with close contact and physical touch, there is no cure for it and you are not aware who carries it. The fear that by going out and meeting people, especially strangers you might be transmitted this disease.

There is so much information and misinformation that you cannot distinguish between the two.

All you know it started in another country and it has reached your city, locality and everyone you know. Now, you do not know what to do.

SOUNDS FAMILIAR……

Long before covid, influenza or ebola, there was HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s and 90s that shook the world. What started with illness, continued with fear and death over 30 years as the world tried to understand what this new virus.

Today As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), , more than 70 million people have been infected with HIV and about 35 million have died from AIDS since the start of the pandemic.

In India, there are around 2.3 million people with AIDS, and what the statistics shares, the trend is decreasing.

What is HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks the immune system, specifically CD4 cells (or T cells).

The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, and breast milk. Historically, HIV has most often been spread through unprotected sex, the sharing of needles for drug use, and through birth.

Over time, HIV can destroy so many CD4 cells that the body can’t fight infections and diseases, eventually leading to the most severe form of an HIV infection: Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. A person with AIDS is very vulnerable to cancer and to life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia.

Though there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, a person with HIV who receives treatment early can live nearly as long as someone without the virus.

Fortunately with the development of the anti-viral treatment, it has effectively halted the spread of HIV.

HIV in India

India discovered the dreaded HIV virus, thirty years ago in 1985, when blood samples from six sex workers tested positive. It was largely due to the efforts of one young scientist- Sellappan Nirmala.

The disease had already reached US shores and the medical community in India was already preparing so that they are not caught unprepared.  

Shortly after reporting the first AIDS case in 1986, the Government of India established a National AIDS Control Program (NACP) which has now become the Department of AIDS under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

According to India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), the bulk of HIV infections in India occur during unprotected heterosexual intercourse. Consequently, and as the epidemic has matured, women account for a growing proportion of people living with HIV, especially in rural areas. 

The good news as per NACO is also that HIV prevalence trend has been declining in India since the epidemic’s peak in 2000. The estimate for this indicator was 0.22% (0.17–0.29%) in 2019.

According to Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), India’s success comes from using an evidence-informed and human rights-based approach that is backed by sustained political leadership and civil society engagement.

How Social Media has contributed in awareness regarding AIDS

As Kofi Annan, ex- United Nations Secretary General said, “When you are working to combat a disastrous and growing emergency, you should use every tool at your disposal. HIV/AIDS is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced. It has spread further, faster and with more catastrophic long-term effects than any other disease. Its impact has become a devastating obstacle to development. Broadcast media have tremendous reach and influence, particularly with young people, who represent the future and who are the key to any successful fight against HIV/AIDS. We must seek to engage these powerful organizations as full partners in the fight to halt HIV/AIDS through awareness, prevention, and education.”

The media have a pivotal role to play in the fight against AIDS. It is often said that education is the vaccine against HIV.

In a survey carried out in India more than 70% of respondents said they had received their information about HIV/AIDS from television. And now it is Social Media.

A study about benefit of Social Media has shown that, Social media is the most effective communication media for sharing information in industrial revolution 4.0 era.

Access to information

Users have reported being able to

  • receive information online about AIDS and living with it.
  • share information about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections with other local and global users.
  • Research about medical information about AIDS
  • some were even able access an alternative, non-traditional source of information about HIV prevention and testing.

Enhanced Ability to Communicate,

Communication is the key to combat any illness- especially as deadly as HIV. Social media provided them with an alternative, not in-person, way to communicate about sexual health, HIV testing, and condom use with peers, health professionals, and sexual partners.

Accessing information from the comfort of home is another benefit, especially among the youth. They felt comfortable discussing topics which would have been uncomfortable had they interacted personally. Using texting and Facebook, allowed them to communicate openly and freely. Topics such as condom usage and HIV testing cannot be discussed openly without facing discrimination.

In another study, a group of black American bloggers reported that the use of social media, specifically blogging, opened channels for communication about HIV, a topic they believed was underdiscussed within the black community.

Having an Anonymous Identity,

Being anonymous is one of the biggest benefits which has helped in dissemination of information about HIV/AIDS. The ability to access information anonymously has allowed users to be free from stigma, judgement, and even fear for their lives. The ability to share about your life and your experience openly in a public setting without repercussion would not have been possible offline as is possible online.

A Sense of Social and Emotional Support

Being in online community and sharing information anonymously also has created a sense of social and emotional support. This is especially for the vulnerable groups such as adolescents, MSMs and women.

Establishing A Virtual Community

Social Media has been pivotal in creating a virtual community where people living with HIV AIDS or even their family have a virtual community with whom they can interact, share information and even show support which would have been very difficult otherwise.

Geographical Reach

Dissemination of information by the medical community would have been very limited. Social Media has more coverage than any other media at present. Messages can be conveyed not just locally but globally as well and even access to rural area without travelling is possible due to Social Media.

While there are certain disadvantages due to Social Media, such as lack of physical interaction and even sometimes leaking of information or blackmailing the person.

But despite all these, Social Media has definitely helped in creating awareness about HIV/AIDS and in helping individuals and families physically and emotionally.

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