A research team lead by Dr. Sandra McCoy, assistant professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, will develop, implement, and evaluate a novel intervention to improve HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention among young gay men in Oakland and Los Angeles (Hollywood). The two-year pilot project, a collaboration between UC Berkeley, UCLA, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was funded by a $678k grant from the National Institute of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, on August 20, 2015.
While the estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable overall in recent years in the United States, young men who have sex with men (MSM), aged 13–24, are an unfortunate exception. From 2008 to 2010 this group experienced a significant 22 percent increase in new HIV infections. Dr. McCoy and School of Public Health researcher Dr. Raluca Buzdugan believe that gamification — the use of game elements such as a points system, badges, and financial and non-financial prizes in non-game contexts — could be an effective way to address this public health emergency.
Their program, I Got Your Back, incorporates gamification to increase the incentive for young MSM to take advantage of existing HIV and STD prevention services like routine screenings, risk reduction counseling, and the promotion of safe sex.
“We already have all these effective prevention services and tools available, but we want to increase the demand for them and their utilization,” says Dr. McCoy. “It’s not a replacement; it’s a way to enhance the use among this higher risk population.”
I Got Your Back will include the game elements of rewards (financial and non-financial prizes and lotteries) earned by accumulating points awarded for participants’ individual and group engagement in various activities (i.e., peer recruitment, initial and repeat HIV/STD screening, social support), with participants’ rankings displayed on an online leaderboard. The intervention will incorporate competition and collaboration without jeopardizing the confidentiality of the patients.
For the first year of the grant, the team will develop and operationalize the game elements for the intervention. In the second year, they will conduct a pilot study among 120 high-risk MSM aged 18-26 in Oakland and Los Angeles.
The UC Berkeley project team also includes Dr. Nancy Padian, adjunct professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Dan Acland, assistant adjunct professor of public policy.