Utilising social networking to increase HIV testing uptake
Face-to-face interaction and networking has been found to be a more effective method of engaging people in HIV testing rather than standard health referral systems a new study has found.
Promoting HIV testing is critical in order to reduce new HIV infections and increase people’s awareness of their HIV status - globally, only 50% of people know their HIV status. Service providers and organisations have struggled to promote HIV testing, however this new research sheds light on effective methods that could help increase the uptake of testing and enable more people to know their HIV status.
The study utilised data from HIV testing centres in Wisconsin, USA over a four- year period. A comparison between social networking strategies which work by enlisting high-risk groups to recruit peers in HIV testing, and regular health referral systems for promoting HIV testing was examined. Social networking strategies pay members of high-risk groups for every person they encourage to get an HIV test. The study revealed that face-to-face peer interaction was two and half times more effective at identifying people with living with HIV than traditional methods, showing the importance of peer-to-peer engagement in increasing HIV testing uptake.
While the results of this recent study help to provide a better understanding of methods to increase HIV testing, social networking strategies can be expensive – particularly in resource-poor settings, where funds to pay recruiters can be extremely limited. However, researchers have argued that social networking strategies can be cost effective, especially for key populations such as men-having-sex-with-men (MSM). Indeed, peer-to-peer engagement has an important role to play in the promotion of HIV testing, helping more people to know their HIV status, and reducing the spread of new HIV infections.