Background:The National HIV/AIDS Strategy was designed to reduce the number of new HIV infections; increase access to healthcare; and reduce HIV-related health disparities. It is felt that social media is an essential tool to engage the targeted populations; connect with collaborative partners; and disperse information pertaining to HIV/AIDS prevention, HIV testing, and research data.
Program background:Community HIV/AIDS Resource Exchange Project (CHARE Project) was established to provide capacity building, technical assistance, social media marketing, and training to health service providers and community advocates targeting populations impacted by HIV/AIDS. CHARE Project serves as a venue to channel acquired thirty-four (34) years of public health experience (clinical, administrative, and outreach), social media knowledge, and networking. Computer-generated environments known as virtual worlds (http://cherryconsultingnetwork.net/CHARE-Project-Center.html) and other social media tools have been integrated to deliver HIV/AIDS educational and promotional messages. CHARE Project identifies, promotes, and fosters networking partnerships for HIV prevention, AIDS awareness, and HIV testing especially among women and girls.
Evaluation Methods and Results:The effectiveness of CHARE Project is measured by the volume and performance of the traffic and returning traffic to its website (http://CHAREproject.com) and social networking sites. The traffic volume and performance are monitored and evaluated with the use of the web-based tool, Social Analytics. It allows for customized data collection related to CHARE Project’s Twitter followers, demographics of social networking audience, topics of interest, and related data that can be used to improve the information sharing and training program. CHARE Project delivers HIV/AIDS prevention, awareness, and testing messages to approximately 2,046 weekly Internet users in various age groups. According to site analysis, fifty-eight percent (58%) of the reached population were females while forty-one percent (41%) were males. The percentage and age groups of females reached were: 18% (13-17); 17% (18-24); 11% (25-34); 2.4% (35-44); 7.9% (45-54). The percentage and age groups of males reached were: 12% (13-17); 5.1% (18-24); 7.3% (25-34); 9.2% (35-44); 5.9% (45-54). Of females, sixty-nine percent (69%) returned for HIV/AIDS updates while twenty-seven percent (27%) of males returned for HIV/AIDS updates. Based on data collected, it is felt that social networking sites are ideal platforms to deliver tailored HIV/AIDS information to female Internet users. The effectiveness of CHARE Project's virtual world training is measured by the usability of participants. Based on the success of current virtual worlds projects, CHARE Project hopes to extend real life and virtual-based training to additional HIV/AIDS service organizations, HIV prevention advocates, and community health providers.
Conclusions:Community HIV/AIDS Resource Project (CHARE Project) provides an innovative approach for HIV/AIDS awareness, destigmatizing HIV/AIDS, marketing, and training through its social media and virtual worlds program. In 2012 and beyond, HIV/AIDS awareness will Not be business as usual, it will take “out of the box” approaches to reduce the number of new HIV infections; increase access to healthcare; and reduce HIV-related health disparities.
Implications for research and/or practice:The National HIV/AIDS Strategy will definitely employ the relevant use of social media such as virtual worlds to disperse HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention messages. It is indeed a time for "virtual thinking" as we utilize innovative “out of the box” approaches for HIV/AIDS awareness.