On Day 3 of the Glasgow Congress, Dr Teymoor Noori from the ECDC in Sweden spoke about his organisation’s efforts to increase HIV testing rates among MSM during European HIV Testing week in 2015 and 2016 using pop-up messages on mobile phone apps. In the EU, MSM account for over 40% of all diagnosed cases of HIV, and it is the only group where increasing HIV rates are being observed.
The ECDC rolled out push messages for a one-week period on commonly-used hook-up apps – Hornet, Planet Romeo and Grindr – which linked to the AIDSMAP website where users could locate their nearest HIV testing facility. In the week of 23-29 November 2015, they had over 70,000 page views, although it was not possible to track whether this led to increased testing. In 2016 they are planning to expand the message to include viral hepatitis and STI testing sites.
This intervention was large scale and was free, due to the enthusiastic support of the CEOs of the app companies approached for improving public health initiatives. There are plans to work together with app owners to creatively embed test finders in their apps. A lot of work has been done in this area by the Terrence Higgins trust and SOAIDS in Sweden, who are developing guidelines for sexual health and HIV organizations to cover issues related to promotion, education and marketing via social media, mobile apps, and the internet.
Tarandeep Anand from the Thai Red Cross AIDS and Research Centre, Bangkok, gave a fascinating presentation on the use of the internet and public apps to address the HIV epidemic in Thailand, where 1 in 3 MSM are HIV positive. Studies have shown that MSM and transgender people in Bangkok spend an average of 7-8 hours per day online, and are accessing the internet on average once every two minutes. The website Adam’s Love is being used as an electronic health record portal to screen high-risk populations for PrEP, book clinic appointments (using the Eventbrite system), provide free online counseling, and provide test results and customized daily reminders to take tablets for PrEP. Tarandeep commented that there has been more success adapting already-popular websites to provide these services rather than custom-build health websites or private apps.
Later in the morning, Dr Francois Houyez, from the European Organisation for Rare Diseases in Paris, spoke about the use of medical apps and privacy issues. He stated that medical data is high in the list of favoured information targeted by hackers, according to IBM, and legislation related to the use of new technology in this area is evolving and is still “catching up” to new uses.