A research team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), the University of Michigan School of Nursing and Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health has been awarded a $9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to adapt and test a HIV prevention intervention for adolescent men who have sex with men. The intervention, referred to as iCON (“I Connect”), builds on an Herb Ritts Foundation initiative and seeks to address the growing disparity in new HIV cases among young men by offering life skills training and community-based HIV prevention resources through an online app.
“Our aim is to empower young gay and bisexual men to find the services they need and enable them to make positive changes in their lives,” said lead researcher Dr. José Bauermeister, Presidential Associate Professor of Nursing in the Department of Family and Community Health at Penn Nursing. “By empowering change we hope to allow young men to be able to reduce their vulnerability to HIV and to seek the care they need.”
From 2000-2010, the annual number of new HIV diagnoses among young men who have sex with men more than doubled, with racial and ethnic minorities encumbering a disproportionate number of these new infections. Given the rapid growth in HIV infection rates among young men, particularly among racial/ethnic minorities and youth living in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, interventions that provide opportunities to adopt risk reduction behaviors may reduce these young men’s long-term vulnerability and exposure to HIV infection.
“At a time in the United States when new HIV diagnoses are declining among most groups, new infections in young gay and bisexual men continue to rise,” said study co-lead Dr. Patrick Sullivan, Professor of Epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “It is critical that we develop new and scalable interventions for these young men.”
As part of the sponsored award from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the research team will test iCON’s efficacy in a sample of 600 gay and bisexual adolescent men living in four regions across the United States. Participants will be able to learn from 16 life skills modules including: education, employment, legal advice, coming out, and safer sex education. Each topic will allow the user to read information, find local services and set goals to make changes in their life, and receive coaching from a peer educator. If effective, iCON will be expanded to other regions of the country.
“With high levels of technology use among young people, particularly smart phones and social media, online interventions offer an acceptable and efficient way to reach this highly vulnerable population,” said study co-lead Dr. Rob Stephenson, Director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.
The research team hopes that this investigation will lead to significant new understandings about how to reduce HIV among youth in the United States. Research reported in this news release was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under award number U01MD011274.