On SAGE Insight: Mobile phone messaging to promote uptake of HIV testing among migrant African communities in the UK


Special Issue: Health, Education and Migration – Guest Editor: Felicity Thomas, Elaine Chase and Peter Aggleton 

From Health Education Journal

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African communities are a focus of public health efforts to increase uptake of HIV testing. Low levels of HIV testing occur despite a long history of community-based HIV prevention initiatives in these communities. It is imperative to identify successful communication strategies to support HIV prevention among these groups In the UK, African communities are a focus of public health efforts to increase uptake of HIV testing. Mobile phone interventions may be an innovative way of reaching migrant groups who are known to face multiple obstacles in accessing mainstream health services.

This paper featured in the Special Issue: Health, Education and Migration, the aim of this study was to test the feasibility of using a mobile phone SMS intervention to increase uptake of HIV testing among African communities in the UK. The feasibility study adopted a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, working in partnership with a pan-African community organisation, the African Institute for Social Development (AISD). The study utilised a longitudinal one-group comparison design with data collected at two time points: baseline and post-intervention. Participants were given the option of completing the baseline survey in paper format or online. Participants started receiving text messages within 7 days of completing the baseline survey. Two messages per week were delivered for 12 weeks: one HIV message and one on general health (e.g. diet, physical activity, stress management, seeking appropriate medical help). This study demonstrates the potential health benefits of mobile phone–based interventions for African migrant communities in two respects. First, it showed that an SMS intervention designed to prompt HIV testing behaviour is feasible and well accepted by the target communities. While demonstrating impact on HIV testing with a single group study was not possible, clear improvements in HIV testing study’s strategy of incorporating HIV testing messages among other general health messages. Second, the study findings indicate that mobile phone–based interventions may be an acceptable and wide-reaching mechanism for health promotion more generally among African migrant communities. When co-constructed with communities, SMS initiatives may thus help to overcome some of the health-related barriers faced by migrant populations in new countries. Future research and service development should focus on evaluating this potential in relation to other key health priorities.

Abstract

Background:

In the UK, African communities are a focus of public health efforts to increase uptake of HIV testing. Mobile phone interventions may be an innovative way of reaching migrant groups who are known to face multiple obstacles in accessing mainstream health services. This paper presents findings from a feasibility study that used participatory approaches to investigate the use of a text messaging intervention to encourage HIV testing among migrant African communities.

Methods:

Participants were recruited in the city of Nottingham by a team of community researchers. They were sent two text messages per week (one on HIV and one on general health) for 12 weeks. Baseline and follow-up questionnaires were completed to measure HIV testing behaviour, HIV-related knowledge and attitudes and general health. Participants’ views on the intervention were solicited.

Results:

One hundred and sixty-nine participants were enrolled in the study. Follow-up data on HIV testing were obtained for 76 participants (45%) and complete follow-up measures were available from 60 participants (36%). Eight reported seeking an HIV test during the study period. There were statistically significant positive changes in attitudes about HIV and a trend towards increased knowledge about HIV. One-third of participants reported improvements in physical activity levels, diet and stress management following the intervention. The intervention messages and structure were positively evaluated.

Conclusion:

Well-designed mobile phone messaging proved to be a feasible and acceptable intervention to promote both HIV testing and lifestyle behaviours among African migrant communities in the UK. When co-constructed with communities, they hold considerable promise for overcoming some of the health-related barriers faced by migrant populations in new countries. Future research and service development should focus on exploiting and evaluating this potential in relation to other key health priorities.

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Article details
Mobile phone messaging to promote uptake of HIV testing among migrant African communities in the UK
Catrin Evans, L Suzanne Suggs , Katie Turner, Aurora Occa, Amdani Juma, Holly Blake
First Published July 23, 2018
DOI: 10.1177/0017896918785928
Health education journal

     
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