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UIC: New Grant Studies Apps as HIV Medication Adherence Tool

A five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will enable researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health to refine and then further evaluate an avatar-based app that has shown promise in improving medication adherence among HIV-positive gay black men in a recently completed pilot study. The app, called My Personal Health Guide, allows users to obtain information about HIV and provides support for medication adherence from their cell phones in private.

“The app supports medication adherence by providing information spoken simply by a realistic avatar that explains why adherence is so important to their health. It also teaches about individual medications used to treat HIV, as well as their potential side effects. The app will be ‘gamified,’ as they say in the industry, meaning an educational game will be added so that the more you use it, the more features become unlocked, which may motivate sustained engagement with the app,” said Dr. Mark Dworkin, professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health and principal investigator on the grant.

HIV-positive gay black men have the lowest levels of retention in care and are less likely to achieve viral suppression, where levels of the HIV virus in the body reach undetectable levels. Having undetectable levels of the virus makes transmission to another person very unlikely and is a major principle of the concept that treatment really is part of prevention.

Dr. Dworkin and his colleagues developed the app to help improve adherence to antiretroviral medications, which need to be taken routinely and as prescribed in order to have the greatest effect on reducing viral load.

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