Popularizing HIV Testing: ATOMc Taps into Social Networks with Prizes for Peer Referrals
AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM) has implemented an innovative approach to encouraging HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing among Montreal’s gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. In ACCM’s peer-based program called ATOMc, “recruiters” promote the benefits of testing and refer their friends and acquaintances to testing sites by spreading information via their social networks.
In ATOMc, which stands for “Awareness to Make Change,” recruiters have been given an added incentive to participate in the project: ACCM has added a reward scheme. Volunteer recruiters are people who are trained by the Community Health Promoter and given information about HIV, STIs, testing sites and referrals. They are then charged with passing on this information to their personal networks—and earning points.
When recruiters refer someone to a testing site or local clinic, they give the individual a card bearing the ATOMc program information along with the recruiter’s code. Each testing centre reports back on a regular basis to the ATOMc Community Health Promoter, letting them know how many people have been referred by each recruiter. The recruiter gets points for each person they referred for testing who follows through. Recruiters can save points to be redeemed for cash prizes, gift cards and even iPods.
ATOMc is based on the Social Networks Testing strategy launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. Check out their guidelines for detailed information on how to implement this project and other key things to consider, such as potential risks for recruiters and program evaluation ideas.
“[ATOMc] gives people an added incentive to talk about sexual health with their friends and to get tested regularly,” says James McKye, an ACCM Community Health Promoter.
ATOMc volunteers are increasingly known in the Village and Plateau districts of Montreal as “the condom folk.” In addition to promoting testing, volunteers distribute free safer-sex supplies and engage club patrons and passersby in fun discussions of safer sex. They can easily be spotted hanging out at popular clubs, bars, cafés and saunas carrying their boxes of safer-sex supplies, which they wear suspended from neck straps like the trays once carried by “cigarette girls” in nightclubs.
ATOMc is one example of an innovative approach to engaging a community. For more detailed information on tips for volunteer engagement within the context of a sexual health program, see our case study on Operation Hairspray. For another case study that uses creative visual tools as conversation starters on the subject of sexual health, see The Underwear Project.
For more information on ATOMc, please contact:
Community Health Promoter, ATOMc
AIDS Community Care Montreal