Last week, we "twittered from the International AIDS Conference (IAC), and we planned to talk about that this week. We were struck, however, by our conversations on new media with IAC delegates and we decided to write about what we learned at the conference instead. (Stay tuned for more on Twitter soon!)
From the plenary on the future of the global pandemic to HIV.gov's conversations with a cross-section of the 23,000+ IAC delegates in Mexico City, the topic of new media kept popping up. In that plenary session, Dr. Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS (and one of the leading voices in developing HIV/AIDS policy worldwide), acknowledged the importance of new media in meeting the challenge of HIV/AIDS. Dr. Piot explicitly mentioned Facebook and text messaging as important tools in carrying messages about HIV/AIDS--but he was one of the few who did.
“It is time that prevention programs embrace Facebook, texting, all the communication means, the new information technology that young people are using. It is not by billboards that we are going to introduce social change and personal behavior change on a large scale.” Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director, UNAIDS
At our poster session on HIV.gov, and in informal interviews throughout the weeklong conference, we asked people from all different sectors (government, community-based and faith-based organizations, the private sector, and academia) if, and how, they are using new media in response to HIV/AIDS. Their responses showed a common theme:
Everyone thinks using new media to offer HIV prevention, testing, and treatment messages is a great idea, but very few have made the leap to integrating new media consistently into their daily work or planning.
For those who said they were working on new media initiatives, they recognized that work as a priority. Several organizations, including amfAR and GMHC, were planning rollouts or redesigns of their websites in the near future.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) was the major new media presence at the conference.KFF provided webcasts for all of the major IAC sessions, as well as interviews with many of the most prominent policymakers and activists in the AIDS community.
There were plenty of bloggers at the conference. Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) sponsored AIDS2008.com, an independent community resource for the 2008 IAC, which included blogs from many conference attendees. In addition, a Google blog search yields over 60,000 mentions of the IAC.
Despite these high-profile new media efforts, however, almost everyone we talked to stressed that the use of new media in response to HIV/AIDS is in its infancy. The overwhelming consensus of the delegates was that the AIDS community lags behind in using new media, and that we need to catch up and learn how to use new media tools quickly.
There was a lot of interest in new media from many of those on the front lines. The HIV.gov team attended a fascinating session titled Reaching Millions--Youth, AIDS, and the Digital Age. The panelists were all young AIDS activists who are using the Internet and cell phones to reach and support young people at risk for, or living with, HIV/AIDS in some of the world’s most affected regions.
All of the interest generated by these sessions, and the enthusiastic response to our interviews, led us to believe that there is a need for a conference on AIDS and New Media. Stay tuned as we attempt to make it happen!