Scrapping the virus

• I am a HIV+ male looking for HIV+ female for marriage. Kindly let me know if anybody can help.

• I got this deadly virus through some unknown sources. I had dreams about my family and kids. I want to have my own family and kids. I’m desperate about it. If methods are available to have kids and still prevent HIV being transmitted to a HIV-ve wife, can I marry a normal gal? If the life expectancy is more now (I heard around 30 years), why shouldn’t I lead a normal life?

• I want a girl, to have a relationship, so that we can share this virus. Hope I get one before I…

These are some of the thousands of scraps (as messages are called) posted on the HIV AIDS communities of Orkut. Such communities across social networking sites (SNS) have become popular as a forum for informal and frank discussion on the deadly HIV virus.

“I am glad this community is there…there are two sides to AIDS…one prevention…two care, at least here I wish all would talk freely about the second aspect and how to deal with the affected people, “ says Pari, a member of the largest AIDS online community on Orkut with 2,700 members. There are over 1,000 communities on Orkut and over 500 groups on Facebook on the disease.

The memberships and the themes vary. The biggest group on Facebook is by Kelly Korevec of Wisconsin, Texas. In order to promote awareness about the disease, Kelly has announced that if the group reaches 1 million people in 2008, he will attempt a run around the world. “I am willing to dedicate a year or more of my life to running around the world for AIDS,” he claims. The community has ready has a membership base touching 200,000.

Apart from sharing experiences, the SNSs also work as a platform for clarifying doubts and sometimes information. A recent posting with a header ‘Please Help me’ read like this “This is the first time I had sex with a call girl, on that time I was wearing two condoms, when I finish no sperm came out, after two days I had a HIV test and it was negative but now I having fever and abdominal pain. Am I affected by AIDS or not?”

Such scraps get immediate responses from fellow members of the community either giving a clarification themselves or providing a link for help.

Such communities are not just about victims. Some interesting queries too find place. One member wanted to know whether mosquito bite could spread AIDS. Other was interested to know whether masturbation cause the disease or not?

While SNSs can act as a support system in spreading awareness about the virus and its victims, it can also be home to misinformation or unproven claims. One of the posting claims HIV/AIDS is a ‘deceptive and deadly scam’ while another claims ‘male circumcision could prevent HIV infection’.

AIDS counselors and specialists have also been able to make their presence felt in the SNSs. They use psuedo name to spread awareness. ‘Lets born’ is a very active member on AIDS communities in Orkut and frequently replies to queries like – can a bite by teeth cause AIDS? Can I get HIV from contact with my doctor, dentist or other health care professionals? Should I wait for the symptoms to appear?

Both Orkut and Facebook are hugely popular SNSs, especially among the younger generation. Though HIV AIDS is a very important issue, it remains off discussion among most. Online communities and groups on such diseases will only help spread the awareness and connect the affected.

This article has been published in Health Monitor, the health tabloid of AJK MCRC, JMI, New Delhi

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