Hashtags for HIV prevention: Effective or just Popular Culture? | SunStar

Hashtags for HIV prevention: Effective or just Popular Culture?

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Hashtags for HIV prevention: Effective or just Popular Culture?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

ONE lazy afternoon I was browsing my Facebook like most ‘Millennials’ do. My attention was caught by one post which claims to help stop spread of HIV but rather in the most peculiar way as the post reads, “ Let’s stop HIV. Please comment the hashtag #-----”.

My imagination then ran wild over the idea of posting a hashtag and its connection to stopping or preventing HIV transmission especially for someone who is a medical professional, has studied a master’s program in sociology and is currently pursuing a master of public health.

It made me ponder upon the following questions? How exactly does posting the hashtag deter HIV transmission? What theory can establish the correlation between the two remote variables- posting the hashtag and then stop HIV?

According to the UN report a rise of new cases of HIV at 140 percent is seen in the Philippines from 2010 to 2016. This has led to a nationwide campaign against HIV/ AIDS in the country with mostly focusing on consciousness-raising activities in order to heighten awareness among the healthy and risky population.

Consciousness-raising activities include but are not limited to: health education; television and other broadcast media advertisement; and social media health promotion.

Other types whose effectiveness is a bit questionable but still is being sought after by the Millennials are fun-runs, beauty contests and modelling.

Regardless of what method to use, it is always important to know the target population so as to tailor—suit the chosen health promotion activity.

Anyway, the use of hashtags is part of the current popular culture considering that social media utilization is high in the post-modern times.

However, how does a practice (example posting a hashtag or doing a health promotion drive) influence behaviors and possibly convert negative behaviour into a positive one (example from non-use of condoms to use of condoms)?

For whatever the mechanism, it is equally important to have an evaluation method to quantify the extent of success in a certain chosen consciousness-raising activity. For instance, if awareness is targeted then how can we “measure” awareness levels of the population with respect to HIV/AIDS knowledge of prevention?

This is contrary to what most organizers of consciousness-raising activity that their success is measured on how they were able to carry out completely their activity for a certain day or days. Meeting the targeted schedule of activities is not an indicator of success as it bears no guarantee that awareness has been heightened but rather how the activities caused a positive effect on the HIV/AIDS prevention behaviours of their targeted population. Also, it might be that the targeted population or “audience” remembers more the activity (example fun run or modelling) more than the consciousness-raising to begin with. Conversely, this statement too is subjective and rather requires an objective evaluation or testing.

I am a bit worried to this kind of misconception because of the message it creates to the public that becomes part of the popular culture. For example, after one day of posting the said hashtag, the organizers had a caravan with good looking models promoting the hashtags either through their worn sashes or the tarpaulin wrapped around their vehicles touring the city. At the end of the day, they posted their pictures in social media captioned that they successfully stop HIV with their consciousness raising activity. It actually perpetuates the misconception that what they did “really” stopped or controlled transmission. I simply cannot get the connection at all.

On the other hand, I wish to reiterate that “awareness” of a particular risk, disease or consequences of the latters (not necessarily about HIV/AIDS) does not guarantee that the person will no longer practice risky behaviors, in this context, risky sexual and lifestyle behaviors. Take note there have been physicians, engineers, nurses and other white-collared professionals who have been caught and placed behind bars for engaging in illegal drug use. Worse, these white-collared professionals have ever had multiple sex partners, have ever had participated in unsafe group sex, etc… Now comes the question: are they unaware of the risks of their activities? The answer is definitely ‘NO’!. They have awareness of the risk and yet they still practice the risk. Therefore, having awareness is not a guarantee at all. But inversely speaking, it does help to some extent as supported by such theory as the health belief model.

It is not that I am against it but whatever consciousness-raising drive is adopted, it is always important to install a mechanism of evaluating or measuring its success rather than resting on the phenomenological experience of the subjective success. For at the end of the year, it will always boil down on the objective statistics and epidemiological data that will tell whether there is a decreased or none in the HIV/AIDS cases.


Email: polo.journalist@gmail.com


The writer is a medical professional and is a full-time faculty member of the Medical Education Unit of Southwestern University PHINMA School of Medicine for its Doctor of Medicine program. Currently, he is writing his thesis for the Master of Public Health from SWU-PHINMA. He has been writing as a columnist of this paper since December 2008.

Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 13, 2017.

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