It used to be that we played video games to escape reality. Now we can play them to better cope with reality. Video games, social networks and chat rooms can all be used to help prevent HIV.
Earlier this week, a research review from Columbia University School of Nursing found that digital outreach initiatives may be the most effective tools in reaching out to young men about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Text messages, interactive games, chat rooms and social networks were all put forward as avenues to reduce risky sexual behaviours and increase HIV testing.
The reasoning behind the study makes sense, and the lead study author, Rebecca Schnall explains why:
"This is a population that is very used to technology, and there is built-in privacy and immediacy with digital communication that may be especially appealing to men who aren't comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation or their HIV status in a face-to-face encounter."
One of the eHealth initiatives included in the literature review was Keep It Up! (KIU). KIU is a highly interactive, engaging, and culturally-relevant HIV prevention program tailored to ethnically diverse young men who have sex with men. While still in the recruitment stage, the virtual setting is used to address peer norms, personal vulnerability, behavioral intentions, and the pros and cons of condom use.
Over the past decade we've bared witness to the enormous potential of eHealth. While much more work is still needed in this area, it's promising to know the initiatives using it as a tool to prevent HIV are having a positive effect.
"If we want to reduce HIV infection rates, particularly among younger men, we need to explore the use of technology to meet them where they live – online and on their phones," says Rebecca.