Using social media campaigns to get hard-to-reach groups tested for HIV and linked to care, if necessary, shows high potential, according to research from the University of California, Los Angeles, presented at IDWeek 2014. A six-week campaign on Grindr -- a "geosocial networking smartphone application popular with MSM [men who have sex with men]" -- targeting MSM of color in Los Angeles yielded more than 50 requests a week for OraQuick HIV self-test kits. Both of the respondents to a follow-up survey who tested positive were seeking testing to confirm the in-home test results or seeking medical care.
Previous studies had established that African-American MSM are four times less likely to be aware of their serostatus than white MSM. Demographic data show that in 2011 African Americans had the highest rate of HIV infections (966 per 100,000) compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Fear of stigma is a major barrier to people seeking HIV testing, and at-home tests may be able to break that barrier.
The Grindr campaign consisted of 300,000 banner ad impressions and four broadcast messages promoting free HIV self-test kits and was targeted at African American and Latino MSM in areas of Los Angeles with high HIV prevalence. The ads were run between April 17 and May 29, 2014, resulting in almost 12,000 unique visits, which spiked early each week (Mondays and Tuesdays) and averaged 284 a day.
In total, 344 of these visitors requested a free test kit, with 67% opting for mail delivery of the test, and 29% preferring vouchers for local Walgreens stores. The third delivery option, a unique code for a smart vending machine, was only chosen by 4% of those requesting the kit. As a result of the demand for test kits and delivery preferences, evaluation of the program is ongoing and a simpler mail system has been developed to fulfill that demand.
Those who requested the self-test kits were invited to complete a baseline survey to determine their eligibility for the follow-up study. Overall, 127 men, all MSM of color (87% Latinos and 13% African American), were enrolled in the study. Study participants hewed relatively young (64% were between 18 and 30 years old, with only 10% older than 41 years).
About 33% of study participants had been tested for HIV within the previous six months, while 29% had done so within the past year, and 10% had never had an HIV test before. However, 38% of the 79 people who had been tested for HIV during the past year had only been tested once during that period. The majority of study participants (68%) reported condomless anal sex during the prior three months.
Study participants were then invited to complete an online follow-up survey two weeks after test kit delivery. Out of 63 people who completed the survey, 57 reported that they had actually used the test kit. The vast majority (97%) of those who did use the kit found the test to be "very easy" or "easy" to use, and close to half (44%) preferred the kit to a clinic visit, while another 25% "somewhat" preferred the self-test kit. On the flip side, 20% of those using the test kit preferred or somewhat preferred a clinic over the self-test kit.
"HIV self-testing promotion through social networking applications has a high potential to reach untested high-risk populations who will link to care if positive," the researchers concluded.