The spread of misinformation about novel and investigative HIV preventatives (e.g. Oral Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and vaccines) can impede uptake and providers’ ability to provide care. We have limited empirical evidence regarding the extent of such misinformation diffusion in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Furthermore, limited research has been done in SSA to explore clinicians’ perspectives on health misinformation and its impact, specifically regarding HIV prevention methods. We conducted a pilot web-based anonymous 24-item-survey soliciting insights about experiences with misinformation associated with both PrEP and vaccine-based HIV prevention. Social media as a source of misinformation was also explored (i.e. Facebook, WhatsApp and others). We sent the survey to 113 health professionals, who work at organizations that conduct HIV prevention research trials, suggesting that they share the survey link with other relevant colleagues. Of the 75 survey responses received, 59 (79%) indicated working in a clinical setting, which was the focus of this analysis. Of the 59, nearly all (95%) identified as clinical researchers; 34% worked in Zimbabwe, 29% in Kenya and the remainder in South Africa, Uganda and Malawi (22%, 8%, and 7% respectively). Nearly 93% of those working in clinical settings agreed that misinformation is detrimental to the goals of their work and to the lives of those they serve. The most common piece of misinformation about PrEP that those working in clinical settings reported hearing from their participants (51%) was that taking PrEP equates to having a high number of sexual partners. Additionally, over half (51%) of those working in clinical settings indicated that the most reported misinformation about HIV vaccines was that they have severe side effects (i.e. cancer or liver disease). According to these survey respondents, participants’ friends and family were the primary source of misinformation about PrEP (80%) and HIV vaccines (83%). Respondents most frequently reported that WhatsApp was a source of misinformation, with 53% for PrEP and 60% for HIV vaccines. The results of this survey suggest that health misinformation likely proliferates through the exchange of specious advice from friends and family and from social media platforms in which close networks are featured. These results emphasize the need for more research to determine the best way to intervene given the challenges of formally tracking and monitoring such sources.
Misinformation about pre-exposure prophylaxis (prep) and HIV vaccines in Sub-Saharan Africa
A clinical perspective
Marton, T., Johnson, K., Katz, A., Ray, S., Southwell, B., & van der Straten, A. (2021). Misinformation about pre-exposure prophylaxis (prep) and HIV vaccines in Sub-Saharan Africa: A clinical perspective. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 55(Suppl 1), S316. https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kaab020