How mobile dating apps can help fight HIV

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 13 September 2016

Health experts have raised concerns about mobile dating apps such as Grindr and Tinder, linking them to rising HIV cases. But public health workers and HIV advocates have found a way to use the online dating tools to their advantage. Photo by: freestocks.org

Social media platforms have become a valuable tool for development professionals. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow them to connect, inspire and inform the world of the work they do on the ground, while dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr have become a refuge for those seeking companionship in a foreign land.

Over the past few years, however, development workers have found a way to make use of these dating platforms beyond their intended purpose. Public health workers and advocates working in the HIV space have started partnering with dating app developers to raise awareness and encourage individuals to undergo HIV screening.

Their target has been largely youth and men having sex with men, populations the United Nations cites as being at the highest risk for HIV infection. Over the past five years, these groups, which also include injecting drug users and sex workers, account for a huge percentage of new HIV cases surging in Asia-Pacific. About 50,000 adolescents aged 15 to 19 years old, for example, account for 15 percent of all new HIV cases in the region in 2014, according to a study released last year by an interagency task team focused on young key populations.

In Brazil, the health ministry made use of Tinder and Hornet, a GPS-based social networking app for the LGBT community, as part of a campaign in 2015 to reach key high-risk populations. The ministry created “fake” profiles that enticed users. Those who clicked on the profiles received messages cautioning them on the risks involved in engaging in unprotected sex.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.


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