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Mobile Devices May Determine How Places and People Increase HIV Risk Behavior

October 18, 2017
by Rosalind D'Eugenio

Adult men who have sex with men (MSM) are one of the highest risk groups for HIV. In 2010, MSM accounted for 78 percent of new HIV infections among males—with more than one third of all new HIV/AIDS infections occurring among those ages 18 to 29. Social and geographic triggers among the MSM community, factors such as stigma, poverty and proximity to risky areas, may be particularly influential in small cities and towns, with this risk being amplified among those who engage in substance use.

Recent federal funding will allow Yale School of Public Health researchers to develop and test methods to accurately assess the overall effects of GPS tracking and cell phone monitoring on HIV risk behavior and substance abuse. By examining where people go and when they use dating apps, the researchers can better understand how risky behavior changes depending on a person’s location and social interactions. Cell phone apps using GPS systems to easily locate sexual partners make the importance of examining geographic and social context even more crucial to understanding these influences on HIV risk.

“By employing smartphones to assess individuals in the moment based on their GPS or use of dating apps, data can be collected that captures the factors related to HIV risk and substance use by monitoring whether frequenting certain locations or being with certain people may trigger unsafe behavior,” explains Trace Kershaw, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at YSPH. “This will allow us to develop interventions that can be delivered in real-time tailored to a person’s specific location and context and to unleash the power of technology to improve health equity.”

This work builds upon research conducted by a Yale interdisciplinary team, which has emphasized conducting methodologically sound community-based research for more than a decade. Yale researchers included on the $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development include John Pachankis, Danya Keene, Russell Barbour and Stephen Latham.

Submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on October 18, 2017