A new study that employs a Web-based software program to help fight the spread of HIV is being used by researchers at the University of Minnesota.
The research led by Joseph Konstan, a professor in computer science and engineering, and B. R. Simon Rosser, a professor in the School of Public Health, are performing a clinical trial to test a software program that aims at reducing the risk-taking behaviour associated with the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Konstan and Rosser's research team have been working for more than five years to create computer programs that assess risks undertaken by men seeking sex with other men through online venues. The team is now testing an online intervention program designed to reduce sexual risk-taking and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
The software program asks users questions about issues such as body image, self esteem, sexual health and risk-taking behaviours. Then, the program offers information about HIV/AIDS related stories.
"The goal of this research is to create a genuine online experience that promotes healthier sexual behaviour and encourages people to take fewer risks in sexual encounters outside of cyberspace," Konstan said. The team's work has become a multi-phased, interdisciplinary project, called the Men's Internet Study (MINTS).
Rosser said it is crucial to use the Internet for disease prevention, because their research shows that seeking sex is the most popular use for the Internet among high-risk populations, such as men who have sex with men. "If we don't do [HIV prevention outreach] right or in a way that's most responsive, we're going to have a new HIV epidemic. There's enormous urgency in addressing gaps in HIV prevention," he added.
In addition to hopes for HIV prevention, MINTS researchers also hope their online prevention model can be used for other public health purposes. "The importance of the MINTS Internet study is not just addressing HIV," Rosser said, noting that the online prevention model could be adapted for things like cancer prevention, substance abuse interventions, and obesity prevention.
The researchers hope that the trials would show that the Web-based program is effective in the prevention of risk-related behaviour leading to sexually transmitted infections.