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Social Media and Mobile @ AIDS 2012

By Cathy Thomas

July 31, 2012

It was very exciting to see the presence of a number of social media and mobile sessions at the XIX International Conference on AIDS (AIDS 2012) last week in Washington, DC. Patricia Mechael (@PattyMechael), one of the presenters at those sessions, noted that HIV/AIDS was one of the first areas to leverage mobile technology in the global health space; thus it is our duty to continue this and to influence others. In the session, Utilization of Social Media and Web 2.0 to Advance the Human Rights of Young People and Adolescents, Hugh Stephens (@hughstephens) reminded us that it is critical to keep abreast of emerging technologies as avenues for helping us reach our goal of an AIDS-free generation.


Social and Crowd Sourced

Crowd Out AIDS.

Crowd Out AIDS.

There were many sessions that highlighted how social media and/or mobile technologies are instrumental in the response to HIV/AIDS in different settings. During the session Strengthening the Global HIV Response Through Social Media, Aram Barra (@arambarra) from Mexico talked about Crowd Out AIDS (@CrowdOutAIDS), an online social collaboration platform developed with UNAIDS that maximizes the potential for young people's participation and leadership in the AIDS response and serves as the hub for all UNAIDS youth-related activities.The platform takes advantage of crowd sourcing which gathers information from the general public about current events, products and retail establishments. For example, if a natural disaster strikes an area, locals often capture and upload images before a professional news crew arrives. Crowd Out AIDS features include CrowdMap, a global geo-location database of youth activists and organizations, as well as a forum, a blog and a wiki all built around engaging youth. It was refreshing to see a collaborative platform designed specifically for young HIV/AIDS leaders.

An example demonstrating the use of crowd sourcing is Declaration for Change (#dec4change). Young people from around the world used an app to develop a list of priorities and a declaration for change for the AIDS response aimed at achieving an AIDS-free generation. Youth contributed new ideas, proposed edits or revisions to each other's suggestions, and voted on ideas of how young people will achieve an AIDS-free generation.


Easy Global Usage With Big Impact

Text to Change.

Text to Change.

"Simple in concept, powerful in results" is the description given by Uganda's Eunice Gnay Namirembe, Program Manager of Text to Change (TTC), an easily scalable platform used to send out and receive text messages, multimedia messages, voice, and data to educate, engage, and empower people on health and well-being. Using mobile phones on a large scale for social purposes, TTC has been used to provide HIV-related information, such as personalized adherence reminders to improve treatment outcomes and interactive quizzes. The tool can also be used for data collection surveys. By focusing on the end-user through provision of local content and software, TTC has had great success. Ms. Namirembe also observed that despite the growing number of smartphones in the world, people in rural areas in developing countries can best be reached by text messaging, which is (and may remain for awhile) the most widely-used data application in the world. So, finding effective methods of working toward important health goals through mobile devices makes the most sense.


Innovative Approaches

Among the innovations I saw featured was the mobile microscope, which could soon be used to improve HIV care delivery in the developing world. Dr. Aydogan Ozcan, a recipient of the NIH Director's New Innovator Award and head of UCLA's Ozcan Research Group, demonstrated LUCAS, an attachment for mobile phones that acts as a microscope, except without lenses. Using hardware that costs less than $10, these mobile microscopes are able to use the shadows of cells to detect illnesses. For the HIV community, Dr. Ozcan talked about their work on a mobile phone attachment that could be used for CD4 counting, logging the results in a database, and texting the results at a minimal cost. This could dramatically improve the availability of CD4 counts and other lab work in the developing world where access to labs and timely results can be a challenge, particularly in rural areas. It could also be used for digital diagnosis and rapid testing of Malaria and other diseases. Different versions of Ozcan's mobile phone attachments could help diagnose patients and provide better opportunities for care.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also announced during an AIDS 2012 plenary session that HHS is working in partnership with the MAC AIDS Fund to pilot UCARE4LIFE. The pilot will use mobile phone texting to provide important tips and reminders about disease management to people living with HIV.

There were many other presentations about new media and mobile technology during the conference. The take-away here is that as we continue toward our goal of an AIDS-free generation, we need to remember to leverage all that the digital world now offers to help us efficiently and effectively act.

Cathy Thomas is the technical director & federal liaison at AIDS.gov.




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