How a datting app got men to self-test for HIV

Grindr, a dating app for gay men, was found to be an effective way to give out HIV self-test kits to men at risk of infection and reduce the spread of HIV, according to a recent study.

The study targeted black and Hispanic Grindr users in Los Angeles, a high-risk population that is often untested for HIV.

Gay-related and HIV-related stigma and lack of access to health care often keep these men from getting tested, according to Dr. A. Lina Rosengren, lead author of the study and an infectious diseases fellow at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The study says that not only are the home test kits convenient, they can help bypass some of those stigmas by providing anonymity.

With a swab of the gums, the oral fluid test kits distributed in the study deliver results in 20 minutes. If the results are positive, participants are advised to seek additional blood tests for confirmation.

Researchers offered free access to these HIV home test kits through banner ads and full-screen notifications on Grindr. Clicking on the ads took users to the study's website, where they could choose how they want to receive the test kit: by mail, using a redeemable voucher at a local pharmacy or with a code for use at a vending machine. They were also invited to complete two surveys, an online survey at the time of the test request and a follow-up after getting tested.

The researchers chose Grindr because of its popularity among gay men in Los Angeles. The app attracts 2 million daily active users in 192 countries, according to its website.

The study's website received 4,389 unique visits over four weeks and 333 test kit requests.

Among the 125 participants who answered the first survey, 74% reported having unprotected anal sex at least once in the past three months. Twenty-nine percent were last tested for HIV more than a year ago, and 9% had never been tested for HIV.

Of the 56 users who took the follow-up survey, two tested positive for HIV. Still, 77% of those users preferred testing at home to doing so in clinical settings.

The pilot study, spearheaded by the University of California, Los Angeles, is part of a larger effort to incorporate HIV self-testing with mobile technology.

"We were surprised about the number of people who were willing to engage with us in health prevention through mobile apps," Rosengren said. "People are comfortable receiving and giving fairly private health information through mobile technology."

She hopes the study can inspire future efforts in HIV prevention and more research that finds ways to bridge the gap between HIV testing and early, proper treatment.

The FDA has approved two types of home HIV tests, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Home Access HIV-1 Test System involves pricking your finger and sending the blood sample to a licensed laboratory, with results available seven business days after shipment. The other one is the oral fluid testing type used in the study. Both tests are anonymous.