In many parts of the world, including Brazil, uptake for biomedical interventions has been insufficient to reverse the HIV epidemic among key populations at high risk for HIV, including men who have sex with men. Young MSM (YMSM), particularly Black YMSM, have high HIV incidence, low viral suppression, and low preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake and adherence. Therefore, novel approaches to increase the HIV biomedical interventions uptake by YMSM are urgently needed.
We describe the [email protected] Project, which aims to: (1) estimate the prevalence and incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, the onset of sexual risk behavior, and barriers to biomedical interventions among YMSM aged 18 to 24 years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and (2) conduct a technology-based adherence intervention study to promote a rapid linkage of YMSM to HIV care or prevention, and support and sustain adherence.
A cross-sectional survey will be conducted with 400 YMSM recruited using respondent-driven sampling (RDS) adapted for social media-based sampling, preceded by a formative phase. HIV and sexually transmitted infections testing will be conducted, including early HIV infection biomarker detection. Behavioral, partnership, network, and structural measures will be collected through structured questionnaires. All individuals recruited for the survey will have access to HIV risk assessment, antiretroviral therapy (ART), PrEP, prevention counseling, and a technology-based adherence intervention. Those who accept the adherence intervention will receive weekly text messages via a social networking app (WhatsApp) for 24 weeks, with follow-up data collected over 48 weeks.
The [email protected] project has been approved by our local institutional review board (#CAAE 26086719.0.0000.4262) in accordance with all applicable regulations. Questionnaires for the RDS survey and intervention were developed and tested in 2020, formative interviews were conducted in January and February 2021 to guide the development of the RDS, and enrollment is planned to begin in early 2022.
The [email protected] Project is a vanguard study that, for the first time, will apply digital RDS to sample and recruit YMSM in Brazil and rapidly connect them to ART, PrEP, or prevention counseling through a technology-based adherence intervention. RDS will allow us to estimate HIV prevalence among YMSM and measure HIV infection biomarkers in the context of the onset of risky behavior. The data will lay the groundwork to adapt and implement HIV prevention strategies, identify barriers to the earliest HIV infection diagnosis, immediate ART or PrEP initiation, and detect new clusters of HIV transmission.
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