New media and MSM+ outreach and activism

New media and MSM+ outreach and activism

HIV Australia | Vol. 11 No. 4 | November 2013

By Tom Serkpookiaw

A range of structural, social and cultural barriers to treatment exist which create difficulties for HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM+) to access the treatment services they need.

Barriers range from the availability of HIV medicine and the health care facilities to provide it, to the availability of HIV/STI/OI screening, counselling services, and CD4 and viral load testing which are needed to identify MSM+ in need of treatment.

Cost is also an issue, including the cost of ARV, CD4 and viral load testing, and travel and related opportunity costs.

Unlike other people with HIV, men who have sex with men also need to negotiate a particular set of social and cultural barriers including gay-related stigma, the fear of unauthorised HIV and/or sexuality disclosure, and possible loss of or disruption to social and family support, relationships and sex.

Compounded with structural barriers, these social and cultural barriers influence individual healthcare options and treatment access for positive MSM.1

Reaching out to MSM+ is crucial to ensure good treatment literacy and an understanding of their right to access treatment.

In addition to traditional outreach methods, such as peer education through one-on-one or group support by fellow MSM+, the use of new media such as online forums like Facebook is increasingly being utilised.

The ‘It’s Me Club’, a group of MSM+ in Ho Chi Minh City, started its peer education program in May 2013 aiming to reach out to MSM+ whose understanding of HIV treatment is limited and often times complicated by drug use or uptake of methadone.

Apart from traditional group meetings, the ‘It’s Me Club’ started its eponymous private Facebook group which has so far gained a membership of 35 positive MSM and transgender people who prefer to receive counseling and support online, due to fear of disclosing their identity as an HIV-positive individual and as an MSM.

According to Nguyen Anh Phong, the coordinator of the ‘It’s Me Club’ who has been moderating the group for five months:

‘Traditional group meetings don’t attract middle-class MSM+ who are generally officer workers and have moderate access to technology. This group prefers to receive information online, via private chat or posts, due to lack of time and most likely courage to meet with other MSM+ face-to-face’.

Nguyen observes that:

‘People are getting online and social media is playing an increasing role as a platform for outreach. We are now using Facebook to supplement our peer education work. In the end, we hope to give MSM+ the information and support they need to living longer and healthier with HIV’.

The potential of social media to play a role in HIV activism, particularly around access to treatment and addressing HIV and MSM stigma is yet to be fully realised.

While some note the limits of social and online media in allowing for only a certain level of information flow, it is certainly true that MSM, particularly younger MSM, regardless of their HIV status, are now using social media to stay connected.

A key question is whether the real time and quasi-confidential nature of social media nurtures a certain complacency towards engaging in public dialogue and debate about the rights to health and livelihood.

The MSM+ community, whether as beneficiaries, implementers, or advocates, need to face the ever-changing nature of communication – how to maximise the use of new media in HIV service delivery, peer education, HIV activism, community mobilisation and public awareness raising must be intensively explored.

In the context of the need to rapidly scale up HIV treatment in the lead up to 2015, social and online media have potential to play a role in reaching MSM+ who are not currently being reached.


1 Choo, M. (2009). Treatment Access For Positive MSM in the Asia Pacific: an APN+ Analytical Report, page 8.

Tom Serkpookiaw is currently the coordinator of the APN+ MSM Capacity Building Project. Tom started working with APN+ as a program coordinator for the ITPC HIV Collaborative Fund in Southeast Asia from 2009–2012.