Adolescents living with HIV (ALHIV) face many challenges with adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and retention in HIV health services, and often feel stigma, discrimination and social isolation. Given increasing access to and use of mobile phone technology in Nigeria, digital strategies have potential to support ALHIV and help meet informational and social support needs that could contribute to improved health outcomes. YouthPower Action piloted an online intervention targeting ALHIV ages 15 to 19 years, who were enrolled in ART. The pilot, a structured support group intervention called SMART (Social Media to promote Adherence and Retention in Treatment) Connections, was delivered through “secret” Facebook groups by trained facilitators and designed to improve retention in HIV services and ART adherence. Informational content was adapted from an existing support group curriculum targeting ALHIV in the same age group. The forum provided participants with opportunities to discuss psychosocial and health-related issues with the facilitator and other group members. A feasibility study was just completed and found the intervention was both feasible and highly acceptable. ALHIV most commonly reported liking it because they felt it was educational/informative, enjoyed sharing experiences with other ALHIV, and felt it encouraged and supported them to take care of themselves.
“I am a very timid and shy person. But the intervention helped me. There are certain things I was able to overcome. I felt so miserable when I found out that I’m positive but after interacting with people, I find out that I don’t have to kill myself or die or feel miserable …So I have decided to open up and feel good about myself.” - 18-year-old female
Based on the success of the feasibility study, YouthPower Action is launching a randomized controlled trial to determine the effect of SMART Connections on retention in HIV treatment services among youth living with HIV ages 15-21 years. The study will include 500 ALHIV half in the treatment and half in the control groups.
Contact: Kristin Brady, YouthPower Action @ FHI 360