As Facebook continues to expand in popularity, a new study indicates that social media platforms can effectively relay HIV prevention messages and facilitate the dissemination of home-based HIV testing kits.
Peer-led Facebook groups are an acceptable and effective tool for increasing home-based HIV testing among at-risk populations, namely men who have sex with men (MSM), according to research conducted by Sean Young M.D., assistant professor of family medicine and director of innovation at the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine.
Peer leaders were assiged to deliver information about HIV or general health to Los Angeles-based MSM with men through a private Facebook groups. Eighty-five percent of the men who joined the groups were African American or Latino. After accepting a request to join the Facebook group, participation was voluntary and throughout the trial, participants could request a free, home-based HIV testing kit.
All online interactions were monitored to assess participation and engagement. Participation in messaging was high in both groups throughout the trial, and after 12 weeks, more intervention participants had requested an HIV testing kit than participants in a control group by a 22% margin. In both groups, the median number of sexual partners decreased during the trial.
The study proves especially important because those who seek sex online may already have an increased risk for contracting HIV.
"The next step will be to take the methods that we have developed on behavior change and social media, and begin scaling them to new areas of health and healthcare," Young said.