In Italy, men who have sex with men (MSM) represent approximately 2.4% – 6.7% of the population(ISTAT, 2012). Furthermore, although overall HIV incidence has remained relatively stable since the mid ‘90s, the number of new HIV infections among MSM have increased of 9.3% from 2013 to 2015, respectively from 31.5% to 40.8%. (COA, 2016).
Smartphone application using geo-social networking help MSM meet sexual and social partners. Studies are suggesting that the use of these apps may increase the risk of HIV infection among MSM because of more condomless receptive anal intercourses.
At the same time these applications could represent a possible field for health educators to promote HIV/AIDS/STI, HIV testing, treatment linkage, psychological counseling and treatment among MSM.
Since June 2016 Anlaids Lazio has activated JoeCondom, a social account on the two most popular applications and with the highest number of active users in Italy: Grindr (7600 users) and Gay Romeo (8000). The profile picture is a brawny man wearing a white shirt with Anlaids Lazio logo on top, and his profile bio states “JoeCondom is here to answer questions about HIV/AIDS infection. It is a service provided by Anlaids Lazio. Do it the way you want it, with whoever you want, wherever you want, but do it safe. www.anlaidslazio.it. Is it possible to undergo a fast oral fluid testing on site .” The aim of this service is to provide informations about HIV/IDS/STI immediately.
The health educator is operating every day, on a flexible time schedule thanks to the easiness of mobile connectivity. Moreover, he answers only after users contact him in order not to seem intrusive with HIV related messages.
From June 15th 2016 to March 15th 2017 JoeCondom has been contacted by beyond 1000 users. 70% of contacts are from GRINDR and 30% from Planet Romeo. The age of the users’ profiles who get in touch with JoeCondom is between 25 and 35 years old. Every user has made about to 3-4 questions on average with a total of 4000 questions.
98% of users ask about the risks of oral intercourses; they are followed by questions about the window period, where to undergo the test and what are the symptoms of the infection. Some questions are about Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP-5%) and about the risks of having a condomless intercourse with an HIV positive person on ARV treatment with undetectable viral load (20%). A significative percentage asks about particular sexual practices like pissing and fisting.
The interest about other STI is low.
The results suggest that it is possible to use mobile technology and the popularity of GPS based social networks as complemetary tools for sexual health education and information. As a matter of fact, during the same period Anlaids Lazio’s headquarters received 738 requests cf phone counseling, less than the apps, but with a higher age rate of users, between 35 and 45, with a majority of heterosexual-behaviour people or sex workers.