A leading Spanish newspaper has introduced, on its website, an information service about HIV/AIDS and about hepatitis B. It included an "ask the expert" section, in which readers could anonymously email questions about the infections that would be answered by a specialist. A study of the use of the service has shown it to be extremely popular in both Spain and Latin America. In the first year of its operation 900 questions were posted.
Many Spanish-speaking countries have been badly hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In Latin America, an estimated 2.1 million people are infected with HIV, with 230,000 new cases in 2005. In Spain, 71,000 people were infected with HIV in 2005. Hepatitis B, which can also be sexually transmitted, is another growing problem. There is clearly a need for the service supplied by the El Mundo newspaper. Many of those asking questions were seeking quite basic information about HIV/AIDS. In many cases the information being sought was already on the website but users of the site clearly prefer the question-answer format.
Although the questions were sent in anonymously, users of the service were asked to provide some information about themselves. Analysing the figures, the researchers found that 80% of questioners were male. Since most questions were sent in at the start of the week, the researchers believe that many individuals wrote to the website after engaging in potentially risky sexual behaviour over the weekend. The researchers say the success of the El Mundo website should encourage the launch of similar services, particularly in developing countries.
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Citation: Marco J, Barba R, Losa JE, Serna CMDL, Sainz M, et al. (2006) Advice from a medical expert through the Internet on queries about AIDS and hepatitis: Analysis of a pilot experiment. PLoS Med 3(7): e256.
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