Hobson City clinic awarded grant for social media HIV prevention program
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Dec 26, 2013 | 4176 views |  0 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Julie Hope, director of outreach/education at the Health Services Center in Hobson City works on the center's Twitter account.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
Julie Hope, director of outreach/education at the Health Services Center in Hobson City works on the center's Twitter account. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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Julie Hope spends her days working to spread the message of HIV/AIDS prevention, and she’ll soon have a new set of tools to do so.

The Health Services Center in Hobson City was awarded a federal grant in October to start an HIV/AIDS prevention project that will use social media platforms to spread the prevention message.

Hope, the agency’s director of education and outreach, said the center has already started setting up the project and will soon recruit as many as 12 volunteers. Each will have a quota of prevention messages they will send out, Hope said.

The agency would like to recruit as volunteers patients who are living with HIV, Hope said.

“They can either be anonymous or they can tell their story,” Hope said. “We feel like that would be powerful for them to do.”

The Health Services Center is one of 20 agencies nationwide to receive the $116,000 federal grant, which is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The nonprofit agency provides HIV testing and medical care, mental health care, case management, substance abuse treatment and housing for patients across 14 eastern Alabama counties.

Hope said she believes the agency can reach many more people through Twitter and Facebook than with what has been the traditional method of sending prevention workers out into the community.

The agency looks at prevention in two ways, Hope said, from the larger aspect of community prevention to what is called “prevention for positive” which is for people already infected with HIV.

For several years the federal agencies that fund places like the Health Services Center targeted grants toward programs that reached large numbers of people, Hope said, but individual-level interventions became popular soon after.

“We just finished up one of those where we recruited people and did individual, sit-down prevention counseling with them on their sexual and drug-using behavior,” Hope said. “Those are pretty intensive and not especially cost-effective.”

The new model seems to be to put money back into programs that have a large impact on whole communities, Hope said.

“And we’re especially being asked to do HIV prevention with people who are already infected, and that makes sense. That’s where we’re going to stop the spread,” Hope said.

Some research shows that social media can be an effective way to spread news about health.

A study by the Pew Research Center found that 31 percent of teens surveyed in 2004 used the Internet to access news about health.

A separate study in 2011 by the Pew Research Center found that of those that use the Internet, 80 percent of teens and 48 percent of adults use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Hope said the agency has used Twitter for some time, but has no Facebook or Youtube account. Those will soon be made, she said. Hope said the agency may use Youtube to post video testimonials from patients living with HIV/AIDS.

“It’s a learning experience for us,” Hope said. “Trying to monitor the analytics and the metrics, to measure what you’re doing. That’s a little bit of a new experience for us.”

At a recent training session held by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, Hope said workers were told young people want messages that are under two minutes in length and are accompanied with photos and video.

“I think the way people receive their messages is so different now,” Hope said. “They’re not going to read a long narrative article.”

Followed the Health Services Center on Twitter at @FriendsofNMP.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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