2012 is a year of paving new ground in HIV prevention research, developing novel treatment approaches for HIV/AIDS, and collaborating with community groups throughout Los Angeles and worldwide.
May 9, 2012
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March 6, 2012
On March 6, 2012, at the AAHIVM Membership reception at the CROI conference in Seattle, WA, the CARE Center's Dr. Raphael Landovitz was presented with an AAHIVM/Institute for Technology in Health Care (ITHC) HIV Practice award for his creative use of social media to reach young men-who-have-sex-with-men (YMSM), which included a $10,000 grant.
Dr. Landovitz and his study staff used the GPS-based social networking application, GRINDR, to recruit YMSM to a sexual risk behavior survey.
"Everyone bemoans the fact that it's difficult to engage YMSMs for interventions, and most larger studies that have been done have focused on the older population," Dr. Landovitz said. "But statistics show that the individuals most at risk and most impacted by HIV are MSM ages 13 to 29. This is the population where HIV infections are going up most dramatically and consistently - particularly young Latin American and African American men."
Landovitz and his HIV prevention research team at UCLA decided to launch a study to determine if GRINDR, a location-based networking app popular for MSM, could be used effectively to connect with these individuals. The app works on iPhone, Blackberry, and Android platforms.
Two-person teams went to venues in Los Angeles where YMSM congregate late at night and contacted prospective participants through the GRINDR app to ask if they would complete the survey in return for a $25 iTunes gift card. It took 4,500 individual contacts over five months to eventually obtain the 375 YMSM ages 18-29 who successfully completed the 37-question iPAD-administered survey that focused on beliefs about HIV risks and their own behavior. Even with the late nights, the study team members appreciated the research experience as a great opportunity to test innovative mechanisms for HIV prevention education, a cause close to their hearts.
"I was super excited to work on the GRINDR Study because it was the first of its kind," says study coordinator Matthew Weissman. "Technology has advanced to the point where everything is digital, so it seems natural to me to tap into these innovative tools and utilize them for research, especially when the target population is young and technologically savvy. I believe this research is extremely important since young gay men are not only very difficult to recruit into research studies, but also because they are disproportionately burdened by new HIV infections. The GRINDR study is the first of hopefully many studies that will utilize new avenues in order to reach such an important population in the fight against HIV."
Study team member Michael Haymer echoes Weissman's sentiments; "I decided to work on the GRINDR study because understanding how technology functions in the social lives of young gay men has important implications for the health of the community. I have seen the use of technology for partnering evolve over my lifetime - from AOL chat rooms to Craigslist to Adam4Adam - but GRINDR is unique because it allows people to mesh their virtual lives with the tangible possibility (i.e. GPS position) of meeting someone. This interesting dynamic prompted me to join the team because using technology to reach at-risk populations is the future of public health and this innovative study is setting a framework for such work."
Preliminary study results showed that the sample was 42.4% white, 6.4% African-American, and 33.6% Latino. 359 (95.7%) self-reported an HIV-uninfected status, with a mean of 3.8 (SD 7.2) anal sex partners in the past month. Approximately 41% reporting inconsistent condom use; 20% of partners were HIV-infected or of unknown serostatus. 274 (76.3%) believed that they were unlikely or very unlikely to become HIV-infected in their lifetime. 42 (11.2%) had previous participated in a clinical research study, and only 54 (14.4%) expressed no interest in participation in a future HIV prevention trial; 194 (51.7%) stated they definitely would participate. 13 (3.6%) reported previous use of PEP, and 6 (1.7%) reported previous use of PrEP. The surveys demonstrated that YMSM could be effectively reached through GRINDR, opening up possibilities for future use social networking apps to communicate effectively with vulnerable and difficult-to-reach populations for counseling and care.
In the end, the team's hard work paid off. Preliminary results are promising, and the study staff gained invaluable experience in conducting research in a high-risk population, with whom they felt a personal connection.
Says study team member Brett Mendenhall; "I felt lucky to be working on a study that used innovative survey methods to target a population that not only is at high risk for HIV exposure, but that I also take a personal interest in. While it was not an easy process to hit our target of 375 participants, I learned a good deal about adapting study protocols to best suit a population. Furthermore, I developed a sense of empowerment by using a popular communication tool to educate young MSM about health issues directly impacting them, in environments where these behaviors were most exposed."
1st ICAAC on September 19, 2011. A manuscript is underway as well.
"I think we have this really great thing going at the CARE Center. People are in the community, working in clinics, and doing all of these things to take care of their patients and understand their experiences."
Dr. Risa Hoffman
The reach of the CARE Center stretches not just throughout Los Angeles, but around the globe to communities that are impacted most. When she's not advocating for better health and social services for her patients at the To Help Anyone (THE) Clinic, Dr. Risa Hoffman spends a good majority of her time working with Dr. Thomas Coates, Director of UCLA's Program in Global Health, in Malawi, South Africa, to help expand the ability of the country's services to take care of people living with HIV. Dr. Hoffman's research there is focused not only on getting medications to people who need them, but also on understanding women's intentions for having children and assisting them in safe family planning. As the program in Malawi grows, more faculty at the CARE Center are taking time to visit the clinic sites there, which is only adding to the depth of the CARE Center's understanding of the HIV epidemic on a global scale.
To learn more about UCLA's Program in Global Health's work in Malawi, click here »