Only about 1 in 7 HIV-positive individuals are aware of their status.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.1 million individuals are living with HIV in the United States. Of these individuals, only about 1 in 7 are aware of their status, and therefore, efforts targeting increased access to testing are paramount.
To this end, the queer mobile social network Grindr recently released a new feature allowing users to opt-in to automatic HIV testing reminders. These reminders can be set to be sent either 3 or 6 months after the user’s most recent HIV test date. Users also have the option to display their HIV status on their profiles, an option the company intended to help foster open dialogue among users.
Grindr developed the new reminder feature with guidance from Building Healthy Online Communities, (BHOC) a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners who are working together to support HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention online.
“Grindr’s making it as easy to get tested as to find a date,” said Dan Wohlfeiler, MPH, director of Building Healthy Online Communities in a statement. “Getting tested regularly for ST[I]s, including HIV is one of the most important things a guy can do for his own health, and his partner’s.”
The app’s new feature also enables users to find a nearby testing site. The CDC recommends that clinicians screen men who have sex with men (MSM) at least annually, with more frequent screenings for those individuals who are at higher risk, including those who are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
“One of Grindr for Equality’s goals is to contribute to the movement to increase information, reduce HIV transmission, and support our whole community—regardless of HIV status—in living long and fulfilling lives, free of stigma,” said Jack Harrison-Quintana, Director of Grindr for Equality. “We felt this update would be a great way to make an immediate impact within the community on a broad scale and encourage more regular HIV testing.”
Another Grindr initiative is to offer free advertising to under-resourced HIV testing sites, particularly those in rural areas and the southern United States where testing sites are much less common.
A past study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases revealed the effect of social media posts and messages on the rate of HIV testing. Investigators created profiles on sites including Adam4Adam, BlackGayChat, and Gay.Com, and then posted information, and responded to users when they initiated conversations. They found that participants in the study were 2.9 times more likely (95% CI, 1.8-4.7) to have been tested for HIV in the past year compared to those who had not received an intervention.
Online initiatives are especially critical at this time when HIV infection rates are rising for young adults. Between 2010 and 2015, HIV infection rates decreased 8% overall in the United States but increased 32% among MSM between the ages of 25 and 34.
Grindr has been testing its free ads over the past year in 15 rural and underserved areas in the United States and at least 1 HIV testing center (Pennsylvania) has seen positive results from participating in this program.
“We’ve been able to target users in our community and raise awareness for our center and HIV testing services,” said Adrian Shanker Founder and Executive Director of the Allentown, Pennsylvania Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. “We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of our HIV testing site over the last 2 years, particularly in people that have never been tested before. With these data, we are able to better address the needs of our community.”
An earlier version of this article was previously published on MD Mag.com.