Health/Fitness » HIV/AIDS

HIV Apps Assist PWAs

by Matthew S. Bajko
Tuesday Feb 12, 2013

People living with HIV and AIDS now have another tool to help manage their health needs and medications: their smartphones.

A variety of downloadable applications for cellphones, as well as computers, are aimed at helping HIV-positive people keep track of when to take their medicines and record health data to share with their physicians during doctor visits.

Two of the earliest options were PozTracker and iStayHealthy, which was recommended by Poz magazine.

The HIV and Your Heart app uses research and guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American Academy of HIV Medicine to provide suggestions on how to live healthy with HIV.

Drug giant Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp. has created the My Health Matters and My Positive Agenda mobile and desktop apps. The digital tools help users track symptoms they incur from their HIV treatments and allow for the creation of reports that display those symptoms users can then email to their doctor.

Merck introduced the apps last year around the same time as the company teamed up with Project Runway contestant Mondo Guerra, who revealed his HIV status on the show's Season 8, for the national I Design campaign. This year it has engaged San Francisco-based photographer Duane Cramer, who splits his time in Manhattan, to join Guerra as a paid spokesman for the campaign specifically to promote usage of the apps.

"I want to encourage people not to be victims but to really be victorious," said Cramer. "It is 2013, and when it comes to HIV, we now can use online electronic tools to better manage our health."

Cramer, 50, is a well-known black gay man who has been a longtime advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS. He was first diagnosed with HIV in October 1996, a decade after his father, Joe J. Cramer, Jr., Ph.D., an accomplished academician, died from AIDS.

Merck purposefully chose today, Thursday February 7, which is National Black HIV Awareness Day, to officially announce Cramer's participation in the campaign. In a phone interview last week with the Bay Area Reporter, Cramer said he had already downloaded the apps and has begun using them to track his own health.

"They are easy-to-use tools," said Cramer, adding that in terms of his own health he is "doing fantastic. My viral load is undetectable."

Through his involvement in the I Design campaign Cramer is particularly focused on reaching young black gay and bisexual men who continue to be at alarming risk for contracting HIV.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black gay and bisexual men account for more than a third of the nearly 30,000 new HIV infections each year among men who have sex with men. Young black gay and bisexual men continue to bear "the heaviest burden," accounting for more new HIV infections than any other group in the U.S., adds the CDC.

"There is such high prevalence of HIV in the black MSM community that my personal mission has been to really focus on not only all people living with HIV but black MSM and black women in particular," said Cramer.

A key to HIV prevention these days is making sure those with the disease know their status and are in care. Studies have shown that suppressing viral loads can reduce HIV transmissions.

Cramer sees the new HIV apps as an easy way for HIV-positive men to maintain their treatment regimens and monitor their health.

"I figure if we have time to go on Facebook, Grindr, or other apps we can click onto My Health Matters and input some info so when we get to our doctor appointment we have updated info," he said. "I would have certain issues with things I might feel in-between doctor visits and when I get to my doctor again forget about it. With these apps you don't forget anything."

As for privacy concerns, the apps' names are purposefully generic so as not to be easily identified as having to do with HIV. Those with concerns should carefully read the privacy policies used by both Merck and Apple's iTunes store before choosing to enable the apps.

Asked about the issue, Cramer said he feels his personal information is secure.

"It is all encrypted. No one is mining the data or scanning this info, it is really just for the individual," he said.

The apps have helped him monitor his medications, said Cramer, since he has struggled to adhere to the required dosages in the past.

"It is really exciting to be able to track and monitor your own personal progress. These things make it easier to do it," he said. "I love having reminders to take my meds on time and knowing when I have exactly taken them. I am more adherent to taking my meds when I am supposed to take them and how to take them."

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