New UCI study finds harnessing online peer education an effective tool for HIV prevention

Newswise – Irvine, California – February 25, 2022 – A new University of California, Irvine-led study called HOPE (Harnessing Online Peer Education) HIV Study found that using online peer-led communities has been successful in helping increase HIV self-testing and reduce alcohol consumption among Hispanic and African American MSM (men who have sex with men).

The study, published today in the Journal of AIDS, enrolled a total of 900 HIV-negative and/or serostatus unknown MSM subjects from Los Angeles who participated in a 12-week intervention between December 2016 and September 2020. The intervention was conducted via Facebook and led by peer leaders trained in HOPE, which involves the psychology of changing people’s attitudes and behaviors. Of the participants, 68.9 percent were Latinx, 16 percent African American, and 7.4 percent White.

“We randomly assigned participants to interventions via peer-led Facebook groups aimed at building trust and providing information about HIV testing. Participants in control groups were assigned to groups without a peer leader,” said Sean Young, PhD, associate professor at the UCI School of Medicine and the UCI School of Informatics, Information and Computer Sciences. “What we found was that compared to participants in the control group, participants in our intervention group were significantly more likely to accept the offer of the HIV self-test kit, reported having taken an HIV self-test within the past three months, and reported drinking fewer glasses of alcohol in an average week.”

The HOPE-HIV study was designed to test the effectiveness of using peer-led online communities to increase HIV self-testing by changing social norms and testing whether Hispanic and African American MSM who received peer-delivered HIV Received prevention information through Facebook groups, in comparison, Facebook groups without peer leaders control, are more likely to request an HIV self-test kit, and report reduced risk behaviors.

Our findings are exciting because they take proven approaches to behavior change and apply them to online communities and social media using the HOPE online community intervention. Because HOPE is an online approach to behavior change, it can be an extremely cost-effective platform for scaling health behavior changes among MSM of color and other communities with health disparities.”

Latinx and African Americans in Los Angeles, California have high rates of both widespread HIV cases and new diagnoses. Cases have emerged primarily among MSM, which currently accounts for more than 80 percent of all new diagnoses in the city. It is estimated that one in nine HIV-positive people in Los Angeles is unaware of their infection.

New strategies are needed to increase HIV prevention and testing efforts among Hispanic and African American MSM. Innovative programs like the HOPE program have proven successful in reaching diverse audiences and underserved communities.

The Harnessing Online Peer Education (HOPE) intervention program is a peer-led online community-based behavior change intervention and an example of a theoretical framework called Adaptive Behavioral Components (ABC) theory for technology-based interventions. The goals of this theory are to guide high-level development for interventions based on digital health technologies; Assisting interventionists to consider, plan for, and adapt to potential obstacles that may arise during longitudinal interventions; and providing a framework to potentially help increase the consistency of results between digital technology intervention studies.

This work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

About the UCI School of Medicine: Each year, the UCI School of Medicine educates more than 400 medical students and nearly 150 doctoral and masters students. More than 700 residents and fellows are being trained at the UCI Medical Center and its affiliated facilities. The School of Medicine offers an MD; a dual MD/PhD training program for medical professionals; and PhDs and masters degrees in anatomy and neurobiology, biomedical sciences, genetic counseling, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and biophysics, and translational sciences. Medical students may also pursue an MD/MBA, MD/Masters in Public Health, or MD/Masters degree through one of three mission-based programs: Health Education to Advance Leadership in Integrative Medicine (HEAL-IM), Advance Diversity-African Leadership Education , Black and Caribbean (LEAD-ABC) and the Medical Education Program for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). The UCI School of Medicine is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Accreditation and is ranked in the top 50 for research nationally. For more information, see som.uci.edu.

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