How I use Twitter in the fight against HIV

Matthew Hodson Twitter

Matthew Hodson is Executive Director of NAM aidsmap and the overall winner of the Social CEO Awards 2017. NAM aidsmap provides HIV news and treatment information to support people living with HIV, throughout the UK and internationally, to live longer and healthier lives. www.aidsmap.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Matthew_Hodson.

‘Ignorance = fear; silence = death’ proclaimed the poster from the radical AIDS activist group, Act Up. The image was burned into my mind, as a young gay man, recently diagnosed with HIV.

I got involved in HIV charity work in 1999 because I wanted to dispel the ignorance and to end the silence that had resulted in the deaths of so many that I loved. I wanted to share intelligence, to empower people through knowledge.

In 2017, social media is a vital tool in that mission.

Good news to share

This year, there has been plenty of good news that I’ve used social media to amplify:

  • After years of increasing HIV rates, NAM was able to report an 18% drop in HIV diagnoses in the UK this year – the biggest decline on record.
  • Public Health England announced no difference in life-expectancy for someone who is diagnosed early and treated promptly.
  • When our treatment is effective, we do not pose a transmission risk to our sexual partners.

How Twitter makes a difference

When a colleague at GMFA (Gay Men Fighting AIDS) first urged me to go on Twitter, I was unconvinced. “How can I say anything significant in 140 characters?”, I wondered.

Now I know it can make a difference. Since then, Twitter has allowed me to:

  • signpost some of the biggest developments in our understanding and treatment of HIV.
  • share accurate information, such as NAM’s Information Standard approved resources.

  • explain to my followers (or anyone else that stumbles upon my tweets) why I am so passionate about this work.

  • join with my colleagues on Twitter to raise awareness that when we are undetectable on HIV treatment, we cannot transmit the virus to our sexual partners (#UequalsU).
  • to call out homophobia when I see it (knowing that racism, homophobia and transphobia all facilitate the spread of HIV) or to give my vocal support to trans and BAME communities.

  • provide myself as living testament to the effectiveness of HIV treatment, underlining the importance of ensuring that all communities, globally, are able to access life-saving medicine.

The challenges ahead

The challenges remain considerable.

Black and other minority ethnic groups are not seeing the same reduction in diagnoses to the same extent.

Late diagnoses, and the increased likelihood of illness that is associated with it, remains too high among all groups.

The stigmatisation of HIV, often based on outdated or inaccurate understanding of the virus, impacts on the emotional health of those of us living with it.

What we need to do

Twitter and other social media platforms don’t always create an environment for better understanding between people. Media can be manipulated, platforms can be used to promulgate hatred or distort the truth.

But Pandora’s box is open. I don’t see that disengaging from it can help.

It was combination treatment that managed to disable the virus enough so that HIV became a liveable condition. It was a combination approach to prevention that finally delivered a decline in HIV diagnoses.

Similarly, we need a combination approach to our communications that takes full advantage of the accessibility and shareability of social media, amplifies our voice and our impact.

End the ignorance. End the silence. Act Up. Fight AIDS.

Matthew Hodson is Executive Director of NAM aidsmap and the overall winner of the Social CEO Awards 2017. NAM aidsmap provides HIV news and treatment information to support people living with HIV, throughout the UK and internationally, to live longer and healthier lives. www.aidsmap.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Matthew_Hodson.