Background: Youth living with HIV in Zimbabwe face a number of challenges in accessing HIV/AIDS information and services due to a number of factors that range from affordability, inadequate information to stigma and discrimination. Zimbabwe Network for People living with HIV and Aids (ZNNP+) has been facing challenges in encouraging youths to join support groups mainly because of stigma and discrimination. ZNNP+ identified social media as a platform to improve access and availability of Youth friendly and comprehensive SRHR/HIV information and for virtual peer to peer psychosocial support. The platform provides education on sexuality to young affected populations as well as addressing social norms that fuel risk behaviors among young people.
What did the programme involve? ZNNP+ trained 10 youths one from each of the ten provinces on the use of technological innovations as advocacy tools. The training was centered on the use of social media. After the training ZNNP+ provided smart phones and periodically provided them with airtime. The youths cascaded the trainings to district representatives in their provinces. Social Whatsapp group platforms were formed in all the districts linking with provinces and feeding to the national social Whatsapp group managed by the Advocacy Officer. The platforms are being used to disseminate information from national to grassroots and getting issues from the grassroots. The issues identified (eg drug stock outs) are taken by the ZNNP+ Officer who engages with the responsible authorities and policy makers. The Advocacy person also organise quarterly media discussions on issues affecting youths living with HIV in accessing health needs.
Lessons learnt: Through discussions on social platforms youths living with HIV started sharing challenges they face in accessing ART. One topical issue that was raised was high user fees charged at Zvishavane District Hospital in Midlands province. The hospital was charging $3-00 and this was beyond the reach of many youths living with HIV. To take the issue forward ZNNP+ organised a dialogue with youths representatives from Midlands province, Provincial Medical Director (PMD) and Members of parliament. The issue also received limelight from the media. More than sixty youths living with HIV are now empowered and can make informed decisions regarding their health and can demand services at health facilities.
Next steps: The positive results from the project shows that social media is key in reaching out to youths. Plans are underway to strengthen the programme and cascade it to support groups of people living with HIV.
(Source: Edmore Mutimhodyo, Zimbabwe Network for People living with HIV and Aids)