Can Grindr Notifications Improve HIV Testing Rates?

MARCH 28, 2018
Cecilia Pessoa Gingerich
An estimated 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV as of 2015, according to a report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, 1 in 7 or about 15% of those individuals are unaware of their HIV status, an indication of how many people would benefit from information about and access to HIV testing.

Grindr, a queer mobile social network, has just released a new feature allowing users to opt-in to automatic HIV testing reminders. These reminders can be set for 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) is a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners who are working together to support HIV and 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. “Getting tested regularly for STDs, 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 allows users to decide whether to receive reminders every 3 or 6 months and helps the user 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 at higher risk, including those who are taking preexposure prophylaxis.

“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 South where testing sites are much less common.

A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases showed 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, 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 received no intervention.

Online initiatives are especially critical at a time when HIV infection rates are rising for young adults. During 2010-2015, HIV infection rates decreased 8% overall, but increased 32% among MSM aged 25-34.

Grindr has been testing its free ads over the past year in 15 rural and underserved areas in the US. One HIV testing center in 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 use of our HIV testing site over the last two years, particularly in people that have never been tested before. With this data we are able to better address the needs in our community.”

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