A crowdsourced intervention led to an increase in the number of gay men who got tested for HIV in eight cities in China, researchers led by Joseph Tucker from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, USA, report this week in PLOS Medicine.
Worldwide, an estimated 14 million people living with HIV have yet to be tested, limiting the effectiveness of HIV treatment programs. In China, HIV infection rates are increasing among men who have sex with men (MSM), and testing rates remain relatively low.
In the new study, researchers developed an intervention consisting of a multimedia HIV testing campaign, an online HIV testing service, and local testing promotion campaigns. Each aspect of the intervention was developed using crowdsourcing, including contests for images, concepts, and messages. The team then recruited 1381 MSM in eight Chinese cities, using a social networking application, to a stepped wedge cluster-randomized trial, and tracked whether participants had been tested for HIV in the previous three months. Most participants were under the age of 30.
During the intervention period, there was an 8.9% absolute increase, and a 43% relative increase, in the number of gay men who reported getting tested for HIV relative to control periods. Overall, 62% of participants self-reported that they received HIV testing at least once during the study period. The intervention was particularly effective in promoting HIV self-testing, but there was no effect on facility-based testing or condom use, for example. The results are potentially limited in generalizability, as participants were only recruited online, and more research is needed in different ages, cultures, and locations.
“[Our study] suggests that crowdsourcing could be used to design tailored HIV services, providing direction for subsequent crowdsourcing research. Also, crowdsourcing provides an inclusive, effective way to solicit community input, hence it might be used to inform health policy,” the authors said. “Finally, when planning HIV interventions for MSM, researchers and policymakers should consider social media interventions to expand dissemination.”