Using eHealth interventions such as text messaging, chat rooms and social networks has potential for HIV prevention in high-risk men who have sex with men, according to data published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
According to the researchers from Columbia University, HIV rates have stabilized in the United States with the exception of MSM, where the rate has been increasing, particularly among young adults.
“This is a population that is very used to technology, and there is a built-in privacy and immediacy with digital communication that may be especially appealing to men who aren’t comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation or their HIV status in a face-to-face encounter,” Rebecca Schnall, PhD, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Columbia University School of Nursing, said in a press release. “If we want to reduce HIV infection rates, particularly among younger men, we need to explore the use of technology to meet them where they live — online and on their phones.”
Schnall and colleagues conducted a systematic review to evaluate the effectiveness of eHealth interventions at HIV prevention among MSM. The 13 studies included five studies targeting HIV testing behaviors and eight studies targeting decreased HIV risk behaviors. The interventions evaluated included text messaging, chat rooms, social networking and Web-based education modules.
They found that the interactive website Sexpulse reduced high-risk sexual behaviors among men seeking sexual partners online, as did Keep It Up!, a website that uses video games to reduce rates of unprotected anal sex. Another video game did not result in a statistically significant reduction in risky sexual behavior.
In chat rooms, the researchers found that if a sexual health expert regularly posted information about HIV testing and responded to instant messages sent by people seeking HIV information, self-reported rates of HIV testing among the participants increased. For social media effects, the researchers found that sharing information about HIV testing increased requests for HIV testing kits. Another study found that if opinion leaders disseminated HIV information on social networks, it may increase HIV testing rates and condom usage.
“Taken together, the findings from all of these relatively small studies demonstrate the enormous potential of eHealth as a tool to prevent HIV,” Schnall said. “What we now have is a road map to follow for larger, longer trials that may definitely confirm the effectiveness of eHealth in fighting the spread of HIV.”