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World AIDS Day: Safe Zindagi, an e-platform that provides HIV services to hard-to-reach populations, young online users | Pune News


Virtual spaces, especially dating app users’ access to HIV-related services, remains a challenge due to anonymity, HIV-related stigma, and the need for lifelong treatment for HIV. Now, Safe Zindagi, an integrated comprehensive platform for young online users, can be a potential tool to help make informed choices and access HIV services at their convenience to lead a healthy sexual life.

Safe Zindagi, an online portal funded by US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) provides HIV care and services to hard-to-reach populations in India. The platform is implemented by Johns Hopkins University through Project ACCELERATE, in partnership with India’s National AIDS Control Organization.

CK Vasudevan, State Manager, Maharashtra, Project Accelerate-YRG Care told The Indian Express that online platforms are changing how Indians communicate, seek information and identify sex partners. “This shift to digital interactions varies across subpopulations. Younger people between 16 and 29 years, spend the most time on the web in India as compared with other age groups. Higher risk groups for HIV, particularly men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and sex workers, are increasingly using virtual channels to find sex partners as well as to build and maintain communities,” he said.

Nielsen’s India Internet Report 2023, stated that India surpassed 700 million active internet users as of December 2022. According to statista.com, the online dating segment’s turnover in India is expected to reach $783 million by 2024, from $454 million in 2021. A White Paper published by National AIDS Control Organisation in April 2022 highlights that in Delhi and Maharashtra, social media usage is increasing among groups at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, to find partners quickly, conveniently, and in larger numbers than in-person dating methods. Several interventions have been implemented or phased out across parts of the country to cater to the needs of these at-risk populations.

“Virtual strategies for HIV care present a critical opportunity to make gains in HIV epidemic control. This is particularly important as many of these virtual populations are not reached by traditional programmatic approaches, so virtual approaches can complement existing services of the National AIDS Programme. For successful virtual approaches, interventions need to provide person-centric and differentiated approaches to tailor messages and services to the hard-to-reach online population and the changing health-seeking behaviours, to offer seamless service linkage across the entire HIV services,” Vasudevan added.

Festive offer

Meanwhile, the Safe Zindagi platform provides a bouquet of services including access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medicines, guidance on sexual health, HIV self-testing, HIV testing at private and government labs, counseling, doctor consultations and information on health services specific to transgender populations. Online dating apps and social media users from 23 cities across India are now availing these services. Between Oct 2022- Sept 2023, viewership of the Safe Zindagi (SZ) pages was 5,47,723, with about 50 per cent being unique users. Through the platform, as many as 3,634 HIV self-test kits were ordered and an HIV positivity rate of 5 per cent among those who completed uploading their self-test results were observed and they were linked to HIV treatment services, Vasudevan said.





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