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Can Facebook Help Stop the Spread of HIV?

Young people are trained to use social media to help curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The United Nations Population Fund and the National AIDS Council (NAC) are training young people to use social media to improve communication about sexual reproductive issues and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Speaking during one training session in Chinhoyi where around 100 young people were being shown social media techniques, NAC national youth coordinator Beauty Nyamwanza said trainees will be expected to pass knowledge on to their peers through social media, with the goal of curbing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV. Nyamwanza said young people generally welcome the programme, as it teaches them more about Facebook and other outlets of online social interaction.

Nyamwanza said the programme was initiated after NAC realized that social media like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are very popular among young Zimbabweans, who increasingly turn to social media for news, not only social interaction.

The social media campaign targets young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Nyamwanza said its major objective is to help curb new HIV infections by 2015, when the programme will end.

Kariba youth Farai Makandanje is among those being trained. He said the training is an “eye opener” as it gives young people a platform to disseminate HIV/AIDS information without being closely monitored by the government, which is always a concern for non-governmental actors in Zimbabwe.

Nyamwanza said they have trained about 1,200 young people so far and the Facebook page, “Young People's Network—Get Engaged” has attracted almost 5,000 “likes” and about 2,000 comments within the last month.

In Zimbabwe and across Africa generally, most people who use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp access the sites via their mobile phones. According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa is now home to approximately 650 million mobile phone subscribers, a number that surpasses the United States and the European Union, and represents an explosion of new communication technologies that are being tailored to the developing world. Studies show that Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership in sub-Saharan Africa. Just one provider, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, claims to have more than 8 million subscribers.