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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Reaching Youth Online Through HIV-Positive Youth Peer Educators

By A. Daniel Ramos

May 31, 2011

This article was cross-posted from the AIDS.gov blog.

Reaching Youth Online Through HIV-Positive Youth Peer Educators

The East Bay AIDS Center (EBAC) in Oakland, California serves approximately 1,500 East Bay residents living with HIV or AIDS. The Downtown Youth Clinic (DYC), part of EBAC, offers free and confidential services to HIV-positive youth between the ages of 13 and 24. We talked with Daniel to learn more about their HIV-positive youth HYPE program.

I have had the most humbling privilege of working alongside some fiercely, brilliant HIV-positive young people. These youth, having accepted their HIV diagnoses, stepped up and met the challenge of becoming HIV-Positive Youth Peer Educators (HYPEs) and now engage youth in their communities to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. They are non-judgmental health educators who are passionate and empowered.

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What is hypechat.org?

hypechat is a community health project led by urban youth to keep our neighborhoods healthy. The program is funded by a CHAT Grant from the Office of Minority Health and is a collaborative project of the California Prevention Education Project (Cal-PEP) and the EBAC-DYC. The program aims to create a virtual space where youth can dialogue with each other, share information about safer-sex practices, learn about living with HIV, and become empowered to spread the word about HIV/STI prevention.

How does hypechat integrate social media tools?

The hypechat website features blogs written by HIV-positive Oakland youth, forum discussions, community youth resources and a new text messaging resource, the Safer-Sex Textline. The website utilizes WordPress as its blog publishing platform and integrates Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

What are the overall goals of the site and how do you plan to measure "success" of the site?

The overall goals of the hypechat website are:

1) to reduce the rate of transmission of HIV and other STIs in urban youth communities by providing accurate information about modes of transmission, treatments and risk reduction strategies for HIV & STIs through peer-to-peer, on-line discussions

2) to decrease the stigma associated with HIV by increasing visibility of youth living with HIV,

3) to support youth through the process of accepting an HIV-positive diagnosis and assist them in advocating for themselves, and,

4) to promote self-efficacy of HIV-positive youth who participate in the hypechat program through development of professionalism, skills training and network building.

Since launching the website in September 2010, we have surpassed the halfway point of the contractual deliverable, celebrating our 1600th unique visitor last week. We track length of visits to the website and pages with the most hits. We use this information to increase readership and our active membership. Further analysis of the Safer-Sex Textline text messages and connection of textline users to the community resources by referrals will be another measure of programmatic success.

How have you marketed the site?

The hypechat program outreaches to Oakland-area high schools and Bay Area youth service organizations. We provide capacity training on the hypechat website and the Safer-Sex Textline to youth service providers and organizations, as well as make accessible an HIV-positive Youth Speaker's panel. We collaborate with Oakland-based service providers like Youth Radio and La Clinica de la Raza.

What have been some of the challenges and highlights of the site so far?

An initial challenge was working with a broad range of educational backgrounds, computer literacy and professional skills. We had to streamline the length of blog postings and taper down various site pages to become more visually appealing and not so overwhelming.

What advice do you have for others want to create a site like this?

Youth-adult collaboration is key. As adult allies, we can assist youth by providing them with the information they need to successfully function in professional settings and roles. Support youth in asking their own questions and coming up with their own solutions. Give youth the freedom to innovate and at the same time help youth stay on track to make their ideas a reality. It's a fine balance that takes lots of trial and error.

How will the White House National HIV/AIDS Strategy impact your site and/or youth?

The White House's National HIV/AIDS Strategy acts as a sounding board for the HYPEs work. The hypechat program embodies the three goals of the NHAS:

  • to reduce the number of young people who become infected with HIV by providing youth with information that they need to make healthier decisions related to HIV/STI prevention practices,
  • to increase access to care and optimize health outcomes for people who are HIV-positive by compiling and promoting community resources and increasing youth's knowledge and by providing youth consumer review of local resources to increase access to culturally sensitive care that will ultimately lead to better health outcomes for all youth.

To learn more the hypechat project, we encourage you to visit their website at http://hypechat.org.

A. Daniel Ramos is the new technologies coordinator at the Downtown Youth Clinic, East Bay AIDS Center.

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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More HIV Prevention and Education Web Sites for Young People

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