Embracing Social Media Platforms to Promote Retention in HIV Care

As presented  at “THE NATIONAL HIV & AIDS SCIENTIFIC MEETING FEATURING THE 14TH ANNUAL JOINT AIDS REVIEW AND PHILLY LUTAYA MEMORIAL LECTURE”

at Hotel Africana , Kampala – Uganda from 16th – 18th November, 2021

Authors: Dr. Hilda Kizito (Director programs & Planning at AIDS Information Centre) and Mr. Seremba Edward Julius

Introduction 

AIDS Information Centre (AIC) provides integrated HIV prevention, treatment and care for people living with HIV (PLHIV) contributing towards the achievement of the UNAIDS 95, 95, 95 targets. Targeted testing has been embraced and various linkage strategies employed to ensure newly identified PLHIV are started on treatment. Maintaining PLHIV on treatment remains a challenge with the Kampala clinic registering 64 PLHIV lost to care between January and June, 2021. Additionally, the COVID 19 lockdown as a prevention modality combined with differentiated service delivery models (DSDM) reduced the time service providers interact with clients to provide psychosocial support (PSS).


Methodology
  • AIC Kampala clinic assigned three peer counsellors to conduct client tracking and peer-to-peer counselling through phone calls and community home visits to promote retention.
  • Furthermore, clients on ART were sensitized and invited to join a PLHIV WhatsApp support group;
  • A Facebook group page was created to provide additional psychosocial support /counselling.
  • Five peer counsellors were the group administrators and therefore restricted access to ineligible persons.

Results
  • From March 2018 to date the WhatsApp group has enrolled 208 PLHIV from AIC and 15 other health facilities in Uganda.
  • The Facebook group page enrolled 86 participants who were a subset of the WhatsApp group but requested a separate communication platform.
  • The platforms provide basic HIV/AIDS information, tips on disclosure, strategies for adherence, management of side effects, information on GBV among others.
  • Group and Individual counselling was provided for PLHIV with adherence barriers including stigma, discrimination, anxiety, substance abuse and religious beliefs.
  • Members were supported to adopt strategies to manage their own health for sustained viral suppression.
  • The platform identified 18 individuals (2 M, 16 F) who had discontinued treatment.
  • Counselling and subsequently 13 home visits were conducted by the peer counsellors resulting in 15 (1 M, 14 F) returning to care.
  • Referrals were made for; sexual partners of PLHIV to receive PEP (5) and PrEP (12); post abortion care (3) and further mental health assessment and management (2).

Discussion
  • Some members claimed to have contracted HIV as a result of SGBV; however, they had limited awareness about SGBV and available post-GBV care services.
  • Home visits were found to be the best modality to follow up ART naive PLHIV and those with treatment interruptions .
  • The social media platforms provided restricted membership and therefore a safe environment for counselling, disclosure and psychosocial support.

Recommendations
  • There is a need to provide information and education about HIV/AIDS and GBV using channels that are responsive to the target populations.
  • Social media platforms can be exploited for IEC and be used to provide support and referrals for additional services.
  • Peer counsellors are a key resource in promoting retention and referrals for additional services.
  • With additional training and mentorship peer counsellors can provide comprehensive psychosocial support attached with personal experience resulting into improved HIV care.

Knowledge is power, Take an HIV test Today”

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