HIV/AIDS Risk Reduction Strategies: How to Get Involved

HIV + AIDS RibbonsThe following Q&A is for the UCLA Social Network Health Study.

What percentage of the U.S. population has HIV or AIDS? How is this part of the population currently tracked?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States and almost 1 in 8 people are unaware of their infection. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are at the highest risk; by race, blacks/African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV.

At the end of 2010, 45% of the estimated 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses were in the South, followed by the Northeast (24%), the West (19%), and the Midwest (13%). An estimated 13,712 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2012, and approximately 658,507 people in the United States with an AIDS diagnosis have died overall.

CDC’s National HIV Surveillance System is the primary source for monitoring HIV trends in the United States.

What is an HIV risk reduction program? Can you provide some examples?

HIV risk reduction programs exist to address and reduce risk factors associated with HIV for individuals through counseling, education, and promotional activities. Such comprehensive programs exist to help people make healthy decisions, such as negotiating condom use or discussing HIV status. For example, the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles developed a risk reduction program in response to growing concern about HIV infection among adolescents and young adults. Components of this program include prevention services for at-risk youth, as well as clinical research and capacity-building assistance for providers

What are the most common misconceptions about HIV/AIDS?

Unfortunately, I come across several myths and misconceptions around HIV/AIDS on a daily basis. Examples include:

  • HIV is the same as AIDS.
  • AIDS can be spread through casual contact with an HIV-infected individual.
  • HIV cannot be transmitted through oral sex
  • HIV is transmitted by mosquitoes.
  • HIV affects only homosexual men and drug users.
  • HIV antibody testing is unreliable.

The UCLA Social Network Study, commonly known as the HOPE Study, is designed to address such misconceptions through education and open dialogue. Our aim is that studies such as this will help overcome barriers, eliminate miscommunication, and in turn help to prevent HIV infection.

I think your team is doing important research. How can I volunteer at the Center? How can I spread the word about the importance of this kind of data that is collected?

We have several exciting projects going on at UCLA Center for Digital Behavior and UC Institute for Prediction Technology focusing on leveraging social media to tackle public health concerns. To find out more about current studies and publications, please visit our websites. We welcome your interest and feedback. For information about volunteer positions or how to support our work, please email us at info@digitalbehavior.ucla.edu.

The UCLA HOPE Study: What Participants Can Expect

The following Q&A is for the UCLA Social Network Health Study.

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What can you tell me about the participants who have already signed up for the UCLA HOPE Study?

The people who have signed up for the study are a diverse group of young Latino and Black men who are social media savvy and active in the L.A. community. They are excited to join an online discussion about health and eager to meet other men with similar interests.

What opportunities exist for participants to network with other people enrolled in the study? Do you envision opportunities for communication to extend beyond the duration of the study?

The intention of this private Facebook community is to create a safe place for our participants to have an open conversation about health activities. This is also a very organic way of meeting people with similar interests. It’s possible that participants will connect strongly with each other and want to continue networking beyond the study. We encourage participants to discuss mutual interests and have beneficial interactions. The Facebook group created for the purpose of the study will be kept active indefinitely, beyond the 12-week study period, and it is up to the participants to decide how much time they spend in the group. The door will always be open.

What do you think that UCLA might be able to learn from the study? What contribution to science are participants helping to make?

Previous studies have shown that community-based models are effective at improving health outcomes. People are generally comfortable exchanging ideas, sharing knowledge, and discussing concerns with their peers in an online forum. UCLA wants to apply this real-life model to platforms such as Facebook that reach millions of people around the world. We want to see if it is possible for people to learn from each other and make lifestyle choices that positively impact their health as a result of participating in these online groups. As a participant in this study, you will be the key to answering a very important question: can Facebook, and similar social networking platforms, potentially be used as a tool to promote health?

Tell me about your dream participant.

My dream participant is energetic and responsive! He does not shy away from asking questions and speaks up whenever he has a concern about being a participant. He understands the significance of the study and approaches it with an open mind. Finally, he is excited to have an active dialogue with his peers in the Facebook group during the 12-week period (and beyond, if he chooses). So far, all of the participants who have signed up for the study fit this description and I am thrilled to have them on board!

To join the UCLA Social Network Health study, please click here.

The UCLA Social Network Health Study

The following Q&A is for the UCLA Social Network Health Study.

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What are the aims of the UCLA Social Network Health Study?
The UCLA Social Network Health Study, commonly called the HOPE Study, is designed to promote health through social media. Specifically, we are applying a peer-to-peer model on Facebook to improve health outcomes among high-risk populations, with a special focus on Los Angeles–based Latino and African-American men who are sexually active with other men.

What attracted you to working for UCLA on these studies?
Social media is very relevant in today’s world. (I believe in this even more after recently receiving a surprise Facebook friend request from my extremely tech-shy mother!) There is a huge opportunity to harness social media to quickly diffuse health messages and address current and future public health problems. What resonates with me the most is that this study is designed to empower each participant and equip them with the necessary tools that are needed to not only make a positive impact in their own lives, but also to positively influence people who are merely connected to them through social media. A successful domino effect in such instances can chip away at many health problems. I wanted to be a part of this revolutionary initiative that approaches public health issues from an interesting and sustainable angle.

What are the biggest challenges in recruiting participants for these studies today?
There are a few challenges to keep in mind. When recruiting online, it is difficult to establish immediate credibility. People are naturally wary of who might be at the other end of the conversation. Also, given the sensitive nature of the health study, which can include topics such as sexuality and stigma, not everyone is open to discussing (or admitting) their preferences to strangers. We understand that establishing trust takes time, and quite often people do not have the patience to take in the details about the entire study. The challenge is to make a quick pitch that is engaging, trustworthy, and impactful. Additionally, a UCLA logo and branding goes a long way in moving the conversation forward with potential participants.

What would you like a potential participant who is on the fence about contacting you to know?
To jump off the fence and join the study! But only if you are a cool Latino or African-American man who is interested in other cool men. We are looking for very specific individuals who want to be a part of an exclusive Facebook group and engage in health-related discussions. The study can be conducted whenever time is available and participants will receive $170 for filling out simple surveys before and after the study. If you still have reservations, call (310-794-2907) and we will be happy to answer any concerns! I hope people will join us on this exciting journey to better health.

To find out more about the UCLA Social Network Health study, please click here.

Press Release: Combining Social Media and Behavioral Psychology Could Lead to More HIV Testing

UCLA research suggests a valuable tool in the fight against the virus that causes AIDS

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can be valuable in the fight against HIV in the United States, where research has demonstrated they can prompt high-risk populations to request at-home testing kits for the virus that causes AIDS, suggesting a way to potentially boost testing rates.

But does it lead to actual testing, and can it work outside the United States? A new study from the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior published online Dec. 15 by the peer-reviewed journal Lancet HIV suggests that it can. The study, conducted in Peru among men who have sex with men, found that participants in the intervention arm of a randomized controlled clinical trial were more than twice as likely to be tested for HIV than those who joined a social media group and were provided with traditional HIV prevention services.

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Press Release: UCLA-led Research into Big Data among First Recipients of New UC President Research Awards

Experts in computer, social and health sciences to study how to use social media data to address public health, poverty and inequality.

A team of researchers led by UCLA professor Sean Young is among the first of five recipients of a new University of California research grant intended to spur discoveries with direct societal impacts.

Young, an assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Center for Digital Behavior at UCLA, will lead a group of experts in computer, social and health sciences from four UC campuses to study how to use social media data to address public health, poverty and inequality. Young has studied, among other topics, how social media can track HIV incidence.

The $300,000 award will be used to help establish a UC Social Big Data Institute that unites the scholarship of researchers at UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego and UC Irvine who are studying Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

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