The NIH has awarded a $9 million grant to a team of researchers to study the efficacy of a HIV prevention intervention called iCON, which is geared toward reducing HIV infection among adolescent men who have sex with men, according to a press release.
“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,” José Bauermeister, PhD, MPH, lead researcher and presidential associate professor of nursing, department of family and community health at Penn Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, said in the release. “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.”
Through the intervention, Bauermeister and other researchers from University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan School of Nursing and Emory School of Public Health, hope 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, according to the release.
The researchers will test iCON's efficacy among 600 gay and bisexual adolescent men living in four regions across the U.S. The young men 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.
“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,” Patrick Sullivan, PhD, DVM, professor of epidemiology at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, said in the release. “It is critical that we develop new and scalable interventions for these young men.”
Between 2000 and 2010, the annual number of new HIV diagnoses among young men who have sex with men (MSM) more than doubled, with the highest number of new infections being found among racial and ethnic minority groups, according to the release. Interventions, such as the iCON, provide opportunities for young MSM to adopt risk reduction behaviors, which may reduce their long-term vulnerability and exposure to HIV infection.
“With high levels of technology use among young people, particularly smartphones and social media, online interventions offer an acceptable and efficient way to reach this highly vulnerable population,” Rob Stephenson, PhD, MSC, director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, University of Michigan School of Nursing, said in the release.
If effective, iCON will be expanded to other regions of the country, according to the release.
Disclosure: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.