In America, 1.2 million people are living with HIV and one in eight don’t know it. Of new diagnoses, 67 percent occur among gay and bisexual men, according to the CDC.
SPH Associate Professor Keith Horvath is leading several studies that leverage smartphone apps for HIV prevention and treatment.
“Status Update Project” is an app that encourages gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) to regularly get tests for HIV. Although in early stages of development, Horvath is optimistic about the ability to reach a large part of the population through app technology. “You can reach a lot more people than with in-person interventions and you can target that reach more effectively,” says Horvath.
Among people living with HIV, sticking to life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication regimens is difficult. In an effort to increase ART medication adherence, Horvath is leading two technology-based projects.
“Thrive with Me,” is a large-scale study targeting HIV-positive MSM in New York City. This mobile-enabled website allows users to exchange messages, get tailored information about living with HIV, track their medications and moods, and receive virtual badges for participating. The website stems from a 2009 prototype, but was completely rebuilt in this study to prioritize mobile display. “We knew we needed to focus on mobile,” says Horvath. “If people were going to use this, we knew they would only use it on their phone.”
The second is an app prototype for HIV-positive MSM who also use substances. “APP+” includes daily ART and HIV-related information, the ability to self-monitor medication adherence, and a “choose your own adventure”-type feature that engages users to follow a fictional character through choices around HIV health.
“We wanted to create something men could engage with in the comfort of their own homes,” says Horvath.
For Horvath, he hopes these apps allow more people to have ownership over their disease. “Men with HIV don’t want to spend all of their time in a doctor’s office,” he says. “They want to manage their HIV and get on with their lives.”