Harnessing Online Peer Education Found to be Effective Tool for HIV Prevention

New strategies are needed to increase HIV prevention and testing efforts among high-risk communities.

The use of peer-led online communities was found to be successful in increasing HIV self-testing and reducing alcohol consumption among Latinx and African American men who have sex with men (MSM), according to a University of California, Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine press release.

The study, titled Harnessing Online Peer Education (HOPE), included a total of 900 HIV-negative and/or serostatus unknown Los Angeles-based MSM subjects who participated in a 12-week intervention between December 2016 and September 2020. Conducted via Facebook and led by peer leaders trained in HOPE, the intervention evaluated the psychology of how to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. The participants were 68.9% Latinx, 16% African American, and 7.4% White.

“We randomly assigned participants to intervention through peer-led Facebook groups designed to build trust and deliver HIV testing information. Participants in control groups were assigned to groups without peer leaders,” said Sean Young, PhD, associate professor at the UCI School of Medicine and UCI School of Informatics, Information and Computer Sciences, in a press release. “What we found, was that compared to control group participants, our intervention group participants were significantly more likely to accept the offer for the HIV self-testing kit, report having taken an HIV self-test within the past 3 months, and report drinking fewer glasses of alcohol in an average week.”

Out of the Latinx and African American populations in Los Angeles, California, there are very high rates of both prevalent HIV cases and new diagnoses, with cases having primarily occurred among MSM who currently account for more than 80% of all new diagnoses in the city. Further, approximately 1 in 9 HIV positive individuals in Los Angeles are estimated to be uninformed of their infection.

The study concluded that new strategies are needed to increase HIV prevention and testing efforts among Latinx and African American MSM.

Further, among patients who are infected, prior research shows that peer support can help fill a gap in the length of time physicians are able to spend with patients. Peer groups have been shown to support physician recommendations and provide ongoing support around education, access to care, adherence, psychosocial challenges, and assistance with general daily maintenance. This type of support can be especially important for patients living a with chronic illness, such as HIV.

Peer support helps to link patients with a chronic illness with individuals who have knowledge and experience that many professionals lack. Peer support groups are able to assist with medication adherence, diet, and exercise, which are crucial components in the care of patients with a chronic illness; however, these are difficult to be managed by physicians alone, which highlights the need for multifaceted patient support efforts.

REFERENCE

New UCI study finds Harnessing Online Peer Education to be an effective tool for HIV prevention. UCI School of Medicine. February 25, 2022. Accessed March 3, 2022. https://www.som.uci.edu/news_releases/HOPE_effective_for_HIV_prevention.asp