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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

Research project: Mobile-ising for Sexual Health: Digital technologies and Sexual Health Advocacy in India

Currently Active:

This study builds on previous work done by Boyce (2011,2014) and Dasgupta (2012,2014) on the challenges facing HIV prevention and other sexual health advocacy with MSM's (Men having sex with men) in eastern India. This study will explore emerging digital platforms in India and examine the opportunities of using mobile and digital platforms for sexual health advocacy amongst gay, MSM and trans* communities in India.

The primary goals of this project are:

  1. Identify NGO services in Eastern India that provide sexual health advocacy
  2. Identify and report on uses of social media and mobile platforms by MSM's in Eastern India
  3. Report on the experiences of NGO's using digital media platforms in developing advocacy and support campaigns
  4. Conduct discussions with stakeholders on how to leverage and use digital media for HIV prevention and sexual health advocacy
  5. Feed the information back to national bodies and Public Health officials through a report

The outputs of this project will include a comprehensive report and a journal article. Building on these results a larger project will be developed. The research will be undertaken between the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex and Media Transformations Group at University of Southampton.

Funder: Wellcome Trust Humanities and Social Sciences Small grant.

Funding area: Society and Ethics

Time Period: 01/05/2016 - 31/10/2016 (6 months)


Increasing HIV infections among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans* communities in eastern India in context of depleting levels of funding for community-based HIV prevention programs is emerging as a serious problem in India. Against this background the proposed project builds on the prior work of both investigators Boyce (2007, 2011, 2014) and Dasgupta (2012, 2014) on sexual health and MSM in India. It sets out to explore how digital media platforms may be able to complement established community mobilisation in sexual health and HIV prevention approaches. Whilst studies carried out in the UK (Mowlabocus et al, 2014) and the USA (Pedrana et al, 2013) have demonstrated that the development of social media platforms has seen a shift in how health organisations conduct outreach activities; no such exploratory study has been carried out in India. The disinvestment in community and NGO work and increasing stigma against the MSM community provides the backdrop for this project. We propose the digitial-media based work may inaugurate a new future for HIV prevention and outreach work in India.

Whilst the growth of ICT’s (Information and Communication Technologies) in India are positioned as tools and processes to fight poverty and facilitate empowerment (Ganesh, 2010) what is also important to interrogate is the role of digital literacy. Recent work by anthropologists such as Pinney (2014) have commented on the penetration of mobile phones within rural and suburban belts of India where villagers use mobile phones to document their daily lives ushering in a new kind of democratisation. A recent report for the Indian National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) by Boyce and Chakrapani (2011) has argued that HIV outreach within MSM communities is currently targeted at lower and lower middle class men and often fails to engage middle and upper classes. Digital outreach reintegrates community mobilisation and advocacy within a contemporary social context. It offers a way to reach out to a larger cross-class gay, MSM and trans* community.


This will be an empirical study: focus groups and interviews with health advocacy workers and community activists in Kolkata, India. This will help to identify findings and develop recommendations. A symposium will be held with stakeholders on how to better use ICT’s and mobile and digital media to strengthen existing advocacy strategies and reduce vulnerability. The research investigators will be able to tap into their existing network in this region to recruit participants and disseminate information about the project. Both investigators will be based in West Bengal for a period of this research doing fieldwork.


The project will have two main outputs.

  1. A report in collaboration with the community organisations and partners to provide a list of findings. This report is aimed to start off a discussion with primary and secondary stakeholders both in the State (West Bengal) level as well as nationally (India) and funding bodies (DFID, NACO, etc).
  2. A journal article based on the findings of this project.


Varta Trust

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