Last month, we attended the 9th Annual National African American MSM Leadership Conference on HIV/AIDS and other Health Disparities (AAMSM) in New Orleans, LA, to encourage the use of new media in HIV/AIDS programs. Over 350 federal, state, and local health officials, community based organizations (CBOs), HIV/AIDS service providers, and community leaders gathered to share and learn from their peers’ experiences in facing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African American MSM (men who have sex with men) community.
We spoke with Kalyani Sanchez, On-site Supervisor at the David Geffen Testing Center at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC ) of New York City about a social networking outreach program it has piloted called the Leaders in Networking and Knowledge (L.I.N.K.) Project. The program uses social applications such as Facebook, instant messaging, Facetime, Skype, and more to promote and encourage HIV testing. The L.I.N.K. project also provides clients with the resources they need to extend the reach of HIV information to their social networks.
“It’s community taking care of community, getting individuals to get their friends, family, sexual partners, drug-using partners tested, and identifying those individuals that are newly diagnosed and linking them to care,” said Sanchez.
Not only is the project using social networks to deliver the message of getting tested, but it is using mobile testing sites to remove some of the barriers to HIV testing. “We know that there’s a stigma surrounding testing centers,” said Sanchez, “so what we do is bring testing to them in places like parties or even video game challenges…It’s just making testing part of the norm.”
During the pilot of the program, they tested over 900 young MSM — many of whom did not know their status beforehand. To learn more about the L.I.N.K. project view our interview with Mr. Sanchez below.