Technology gives men who have sex with men (MSM) new ways to assess their health status, prevent HIV and other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and find care, according to three ongoing pilot studies presented September 21 at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2016 STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
"New tools should help researchers and clinicians make taking care of your health easy to do while you're on the train or while you have a minute waiting at the airport, and patients should become involved in monitoring, preventing, and seeking care for HIV and other STDs, " Patrick S. Sullivan, DVM, PhD, a member of the US Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), told Contagion
Dr. Sullivan, professor in the Department of Epidemiology of the Rollins School of Public Health and co-director of the Prevention Sciences Core at the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR)
at Emory University in Atlanta presented data from three ongoing studies that blend technology, services, and medical care to help MSM protect their health and curb the spread of STDs.
"We know that the same behaviors that can lead you to acquire a rectal STI (sexually transmitted infection) can also lead you to acquire HIV," he said in his talk. "[Targeting HIV together with other STDs is] important because we are trying to serve the same population with these programs. We have common interventions, common intervention providers, biological interactions, and important programmatic links between interventions and screening, such as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and STI screening."
One such study is the HealthMindr
study, which involves a mobile app that MSM use to manage their sexual health. In the study, which has enrolled roughly 120 MSM in Atlanta and Seattle, Washington, participants can enter personal information about their health and sexual activity, receive information about their risk for HIV and other STDs, and plan an appropriate testing schedule. The men can provide sample specimens in a way they choose: through the mail by choosing to receive a test kit at home, where they can provide samples themselves and return them to a lab for testing; or by being tested at a doctor's office. They can choose to receive counseling and treatment and have condoms, PrEP, and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) mailed to them at home.
In preliminary results, participants visited the app two or three times a month on average, and at the four-month mark, 99 of them finished their final evaluation. Overall, 78% of the men who at the start of the study reported not liking their current condoms, ordered different condoms through the app, and 87% of those men reported using them; 50% who had not been on a regular testing schedule now had one; and 10% of men who were eligible for PrEP began taking it.
"The men came to the app two or three times a month even though they were not incentivized. Many ordered testing kits and many ordered condoms. I was surprised by the extent of uptake," Dr. Sullivan added. "I think that was a validation of the idea that men want to take care of their health."
HealthMindr has since stopped enrolling participants and the researchers plan to use the app in further studies.