Grindr Pilots HIV Home Testing Promotion

Could the world's largest gay social network be an effective vehicle to offer free home testing to men at high risk for HIV?

Could the world’s largest gay social network be an effective vehicle to offer free home testing to men at high risk for HIV?

Young gay black and Hispanic men are the demographic most likely to be infected with HIV in the United States, and also the least likely to get tested.

Researchers from the medical schools at Indiana University and the University of California, Los Angeles, advertised free home testing kits on Grindr for 1 month in fall 2014. In total, 300,000 banner ads and 3 broadcast messages were used to promote the free testing kits for the high-risk HIV population in Los Angeles.

The test is neither invasive nor time-consuming. It requires no blood, as it’s just a cheek swab. Results are available within 20 minutes.

During the 1-month period, Grindr received 4389 unique visitors and 333 test requests, of which 247 (74%) were requests for mailed tests, 58 (17%) were for vouchers, and 28 (8%) were for vending machines.

Eligible participants older than 18 years were invited to take a survey 2 weeks after test delivery. Of the 125 participants, 74% reported at least 1 episode of anal intercourse without a condom in the past 3 months, 29% last tested for HIV over 1 year ago, and 9% had never been tested.

A total of 56 black and Hispanic men who requested kits were willing to answer survey questions about their sexual habits. Of this cohort, 69% admitted that they hadn’t been tested in the last 6 months. Health experts recommend that gay men who don’t always use condoms should get tested every 3 months.

Importantly, Grindr proved to be an effective vehicle for reaching high-risk populations, and although the study focused on Los Angeles residents, the idea of using the app to encourage HIV home testing can easily be implemented in other cities. At least 5 million men worldwide are active Grindr users.

Even if test results are negative, they’re still vitally important for patients at high risk for HIV infection to protect themselves from possible transmission.

Consistent pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use can lower the risk of HIV infection by 92% among those at high risk for transmission, according to the CDC. The agency also recently released a fact sheet describing how 25% of sexually active gay and bisexual men, 20% of individuals who inject drugs, and 1 in 200 sexually active heterosexual adults should be offered PrEP.

Grindr for Equality—the men’s health advocacy arm of Grindr—previously conducted a survey ahead of World AIDS Day to measure users’ understanding of the availability of Truvada as PrEP. The poll followed an American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) survey of 324 regional HIV care providers on their PrEP prescribing habits.

According to the Grindr poll, 35.2% of those who aren’t currently taking PrEP but have expressed an interest in doing so report feeling anxious about having to take the pill consistently each day. However, 90% of respondents currently on PrEP reported taking all 7 doses for the past week.

Despite the generally positive numbers associated with PrEP adherence, health care providers still cite adherence as a reason for their hesitation to prescribe the drug. Other provider concerns include follow-up care for monitoring and counseling PrEP patients, as well as the therapy’s overall efficacy in preventing HIV.

Pharmacists should always encourage all patients to stay adherent to their medications, but with respect to PrEP, they can let their patients know about the CDC estimate that the regimen, if correctly adhered to, can reduce their risk of HIV by 92%. Testing kits are also often available OTC in pharmacies.

“Pharmacists can be first-line providers in providing information…and can play a role at each stage of the HIV [prevention] and care continuum,” Jacek Skarbinski, MD, of the CDC previously told Pharmacy Times.

The current study was recently published in the journal Sexual Health.