Virtual outreach

Two people sit on a bed, one holds a mobile phone and the other holds a balloon Frontline AIDS/Gemma Taylor/2018

Key information

  • Organisation: Alliance India
  • Country: India
  • Region: Asia and the Pacific
  • Stage of innovation: Stage 4: Go-to-market strategy developed
  • Start date: 2016
  • End date: TBC
  • Type of innovation: Service innovation: new or improved service
  • Funded by: EJAF

Summary of intervention

In India, more transgender people and men who have sex with men are using social media rather than ‘cruising’ sites to meet people. This is making it harder for HIV prevention programmes to reach them.

In response, Alliance India has developed a ‘virtual outreach’ using popular social media platforms, such as Planet Romeo and Facebook, where people can ask questions about their sexual health. Community representatives monitor the platforms and will respond to each query. Users can also get information on friendly health facilities, services and health camps. The ‘virtual outreaches’ are promoted on social media before they take place.

In November and December 2017, 1,229 transgender people and men who have sex with men engaged with virtual outreach compared to 300 in hotspots. All of those reached virtually had not been reached before; 538 expressed a high-level of interest in visiting a clinic and 132 had an appointment, tested for HIV and were linked with prevention and/or treatment services.

This innovation has increased the social media skills of programme staff. It will also provide much needed evidence for India’s national HIV programme and insight for countries that are struggling to keep pace with changing behaviours driven by technology.


  • The virtual outreach is likely to have reached significantly more people than was reported, but it was not possible to measure the full impact due to the monitoring limitations of the platforms used.
  • The initiative was also limited by the fact that people could only be linked to services at five clinics.
  • There was a 90% uptake of HIV testing for people reached through physical outreach, compared to 11% through virtual outreach (Nov-Dec 2017). But although the conversion rate is lower, the fact that virtual outreach can connect with far more people means it can still translate into significant numbers of people accessing HIV and STI testing, particularly first-time testers.

next steps

The virtual outreach approach shows promise in terms of its applicability to other Frontline AIDS partners and could be adopted to complement and build upon other organisations’ ‘physical’ outreach activities.