Virtual platforms and digital media are important tools for bringing testing, treatment and prevention services to the estimated 37.7 million people living with HIV worldwide (1). A new policy brief, released today on virtual interventions in response to HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and viral hepatitis, provides guidance for countries to innovate, implement and integrate comprehensive virtual intervention services.
Over the past decade, people have increasingly accessed health information and services using digital and virtual platforms, including social network sites and messaging platforms. In 2021, about 60% of people worldwide were connected online and 54% of them were social media users (2). Many populations, particularly those that face stigma and discrimination including key populations (men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons and other closed settings) and other priority populations including adolescents and young people find virtual interventions and online models empowering and convenient. Those populations that are not effectively served through traditional platforms can often be reached through virtual approaches, as these are more private and have wide saturation in communities.
This policy brief provides practical advice to programmes and governments to plan and implement virtual interventions as well as adapt and implement safe and effective services in the context of COVID-19, and to learn from these for future implementation. It also provides an adaptable framework for virtual interventions to enable stakeholders to prioritize approaches and activities based on the country context and needs.
Virtual interventions are also increasingly being used to deliver self-care and self-testing innovations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual interventions have been used by programmes to sustain service delivery for HIV testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and antiretroviral therapy when physical services were not feasible.
“Despite progress toward achieving global goals to achieve and maintain low HIV incidence worldwide, new approaches are needed to reach and serve those who do not yet know their HIV status and to deliver testing, prevention, and treatment services,” said Dr Meg Doherty, Director of WHO Global HIV, Hepatitis, and STI Programmes. She noted, “As access to virtual platforms expand across regions, there is huge potential to reach more people with HIV, hepatitis and STI information and services as part of the broader self-care movement.”
The brief, launched today, is jointly published by WHO and UNAIDS. Eamonn Murphy, Deputy Executive Director a.i. Programmes, UNAIDS, said, “This policy brief is an important resource for programmes as they accelerate the planning and introduction of virtual interventions and deliver HIV, hepatitis and STI services for key populations, adolescents and young people.”
2. We Are Social (2020). Digital in 2021 Report
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Innovate, Implement, Integrate: Virtual interventions in response to HIV, sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis (PDF, 640 KB)
Innovative approaches to promoting and distributing HIV self-testing kits – Sustainability of HIV services for Key Populations in Asia (SKPA) report (PDF, 850 KB)
WHO guideline on self-care interventions for health and well-being, 2022 revision