New York Times Examines Internet-Based HIV/AIDS, STD Prevention Campaigns Aimed at Men Who Have Sex With Men
The New York Times on Tuesday examined Internet-based HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease prevention campaigns aimed at men who have sex with men who meet partners online -- a "popular" practice that might be "fueling the spread" of STDs among MSM. Recent research suggests that MSM who meet partners on the Internet are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors and have a history of STDs, including HIV, according to the Times. A study conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services found that 67% of MSM who met partners online are HIV-positive. They also were three and a half times as likely as other MSM to engage in anonymous sex and twice as likely to use injection drugs. Another study conducted in San Francisco suggested that out of 91 MSM surveyed about their online activities, 39% reported having unprotected anal intercourse with men they met online. Although this trend may be "alarming," some health educators say it gives them an opportunity to distribute prevention and treatment information in "innovative ways," according to the Times.
Prevention, Treatment Campaigns
In response to the trend, some local public and private health agencies have launched Internet-based prevention and treatment campaigns aimed at MSM who meet partners online. Over the past few years, agencies in several cities have begun placing banner advertisements on "sexually oriented" Web sites, hosting online discussions about disease prevention methods and making laboratory slips for STD testing available online for users to download, the Times reports. Although there is "little data" to help guide local agencies on "effective" prevention strategies, many health care workers say that Internet programs "can be particularly useful in reaching men in rural areas," young MSM and others who wish to remain anonymous. "I think the anonymity is extremely helpful," Lyndon Cudlitz, education and outreach coordinator for the Maine-based group Outright, said, adding, "Because we never know who it is, they can ask any kind of question without needing to feel embarrassed." However, despite the "wealth of online efforts," some health educators say they are "not sure which techniques work best or if they work at all," the Times reports. "We really don't have any specific intervention we can hang our hats on and say, 'This is what works,'" Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, director of STD prevention and control for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said.
San Francisco Advertising Campaign
Health agencies in San Francisco have launched "some of the most varied approaches to online prevention," including an advertising initiative begun earlier this year that encourages people to ask their partners directly about their exposure to STDs or their HIV status, as well as "be explicit about the activities they are interested in," according to Raul Cabra, founder of Cabra Diseno, the marketing firm that created the campaign (Tuller, New York Times, 10/26). The campaign, called "Be-Clear," is intended to help MSM interpret abbreviations -- such as "D&D free," meaning "drug and disease free" -- that are commonly used in online forums to help reduce the risk of HIV infection or other STDs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/24). The campaign was created on the premise that MSM who are HIV-negative "are seeking other men who are negative, while men who are HIV-positive are seeking other HIV-positive men," according to the Times. "What's problematic is that the language people use is a bit sloppy," Cabra said, adding that those involved in the program hope to "provide ways in which they explain what they want plainly and directly" (New York Times, 10/26).