In recent years, researchers and providers have expressed concern about a phenomenon known as 'HIV prevention fatigue.' "The fear is that gay men are tired of hearing about how to prevent HIV, and because of new treatment options, HIV isn't seen as a big deal anymore," says Dr. Christian Grov, Associate Professor at Brooklyn College and a researcher at Hunter College's Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training (CHEST).
In 2011, CHEST's research team surveyed 660 gay and bisexual men at bathhouses, gay bars, and clubs in New York City. Men were asked to rate the importance of five different health issues facing the gay community. "We wanted to see if HIV prevention fatigue was indeed becoming a real problem in the community," says Grov, the study's lead author.
Along with HIV/STDs, men were also asked to rank mental health, smoking, body image, and drug and alcohol use. The study reported that HIV/STDs was ranked as the top concern among those surveyed and that mental health and drug and alcohol use were not far behind, tying for second place. "These findings are promising for HIV prevention providers because they suggest many gay and bisexual men still recognize HIV as a top issue for the gay community," says Grov.
While the men surveyed indicated they had a continued concern about HIV/AIDS, efforts for HIV prevention have stalled over the past few years with HIV infection rates among gay and bi men remaining disproportionately high. Some health care providers have called for a more comprehensive approachone that can simultaneously address several health issues affecting this population. Says Grov, "HIV does not exist in a vacuum. However, many treatment and prevention services exist in silos. You go to one place for HIV education and prevention, another place for mental health, and a third for anything related to substance abuse."
He continues, "Our findings suggest providers may be well served to address multiple health issues when doing outreach — HIV prevention and treatment, mental health care, and drug treatment. A one- two-three punch." Researchers have called such a multifaceted approach an 'HIV Prevention Cocktail.'
Smart devices (such as a smart phone, tablet, or iPod touch) are an emerging platform for health message delivery, and almost three-quarters of the men surveyed in this study reported owning such a device. This is much higher than a Pew Research study finding that only 35% of US adults own smart phones. Men were equally likely to rank HIV prevention, mental health, and substance use as main areas of concern, regardless of whether they owned a smart device. "This tells us that efforts to conduct outreach using smart platforms could potentially reach guys with similar attitudes toward HIV and other health issues," says Grov.
The findings of the CHEST study suggest that implementing a triple punch 'HIV prevention cocktail' using smart devices could target gay and bi men's health concerns through the newest health messaging technologies.
About the study:
The results of this study titled, "Perceived importance of five different health issues for gay and bisexual men: Implications for new directions in health education and prevention," by Christian Grov, Ana Ventuneac, H. Jonathon Rendina, Ruben H Jimenez, and Jeffrey T. Parsons will be published in an upcoming issue of theAmerican Journal of Men's Health.
CHEST's mission is to conduct research to identify and promote strategies that prevent the spread of HIV and improve the lives of people living with HIV. We have been advocating for and working with the LGBT community since 1996.