In an effort to combat the spread of misinformation around Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) online, a group of civil society organizations hosted a three-day training with fifteen social media influencers. The training took place at a Trelawny-based hotel from Wednesday, July 28 to Friday, July 30.
Kandasi Levermore, Executive Director at Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) shared that as the organizations continue to push messages around safe sexual practices and creating an enabling environment for People Living with HIV (PLHIV), strategic partnerships have to be formed with individuals that can ‘influence’ their peers. She explains “ The message for us has not changed, we have been asking Jamaicans for 30 years to practice safe sex, but it’s time we get some new messengers, these social media influencers may very well stir an entire generation in a new direction, and we are excited about that.”
The three days of training included sessions around HIV 101, stigma and discrimination, HIV treatment and management and values clarification. It saw influencers creating messages in the form of short audiovisual for use in future HIV campaigns. The training also included a session around HIV treatment, this was done to help the influencers appreciate that once a PLHIV is taking their medication as prescribed they are able to live a long and healthy life.
Sade Buckeridge, Chief Executive Director of Fetish Secretz, shared that the highlight of the training for her was sitting and listening to the testimonies from two PLHIV. She commented, “ I thought I saw and heard it all, but I was in awe when they announced that they were living with HIV, the female for over 16 years and the male for over 20 years. They look really good. It was even more surprising when the female shared that she had 3 children and none of them are living with the virus. This training will forever be etched in my mind.”
The influencers were equipped with information around HIV treatment. Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at JASL, Xavier Biggs explained to the influencers that the aim for PLHIV is to reach viral suppression. Mr. Biggs shared, “when HIV medication is taking consistently, the viral load can get so low that it because undetectable which significantly reduces the chance of the virus being transmitted. The key, however, is that persons must remain on their medication.”
The training was a part of a broader initiative entitled ‘With You All the Way’ in partnership with Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, Jamaica Network of Seropositive, The Ashe Company, Eve for Life and Children First. The activity was funded by United States Agency for International Development. It was aimed at building the capacity of social media influencers around HIV-related services. Partnerships will be formed with the various entities and the influencers to create messages to be shared across the various social media platforms.
The influencers at the training included: Solaine Anderson, Deandra ‘Wally Dee’ Wallace, Sade Buckeridge, Trudy-Ann ‘Sista Passion’ Bell, Netania ‘Nets Jenner’ Mundell, Courtni Jackson, Marlon ‘Flyght Bluugo’ Powell, Kymani ‘Iheartmanni’ Whyte, Rachel ‘Starface’ Edwards, Andre Skeen, Anna-Kaye Dockery, Shanice Blackwood and Tyler ‘Tarzan’ Samoy.
JASL is encouraging individuals to use their platforms to share factual information about HIV and other STIs and promote better treatment for People Living with or affected by HIV and AIDS.