Innovation and human centered design in the fight against HIV and AIDS

The International AIDS conferece, AIDS2020Virtual was organized 6-10 July 2020. Thousands of scientists, activists, policy makers, people living with HIV and others came together to share the newest information on HIV and AIDS. I attended the virtual conference and in this post I will discuss one of the sessions on human centered design.

Innovation has fueled medical advancements

Innovation has shaped the course of the whole HIV epidemic. In the 1980s getting an HIV diagnosis meant a certain death. Since then we’ve come a long way through several crucial innovations in HIV treatment and prevention, one of the most crucial ones being antiretroviral medication. Today thanks to effective treatment, a person living with HIV can live a long and healthy life.

Through further innovation, we can reach the end of this epidemic. There is much research in the pipeline around an HIV vaccine, a possible cure and preventive treatment, such as different options for PrEP. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a medicine that people who are at a high risk of HIV can use to prevent infection. Read more about PrEP here

Reaching the most vulnerable through human centered design

Although medical advances have been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, the development has been unequal and many people have been left behind. Therefore, HIV service provision is now gaining more attention, so that the ones that have been left behind during the past 40 years of HIV work, can be better included in the response in the future. This is where I believe that human centered design can play an important role.

During the #AIDS2020Virtual conference I attended a discussion on human centered design and how it can be utilized in HIV prevention and testing. Throughout the conference, the importance of empathy came up in discussions with people living with HIV, key populations in terms of HIV, activists and specialists. As human centered design is grounded in empathy and since it puts the person at the center of the service that is designed for their benefit, it brings a lot of value for designing HIV services and programs. Human centered design does not only take into consideration what people say, but beneficiaries of services can actually impact the final service through their actions, based on their needs, motivations and desires. The session included speakers from USAID, JSI, Matchboxology and Ideo.org. They all introduced case studies in advancing HIV treatment or prevention through human centered design.

Designing an HIV prevention program with and for young women

I will share with you the case study introduced by Matchboxology. The case study focused on young girls in South Africa, as women and especially young girls have a higher risk of HIV infection than men in the country. (Avert 2020)

A multidisciplinary team came together to develop the methodology, conduct user research and in the end develop a concept and brand to increase PrEP use among young girls in South Africa. One of the main successes in the human centered design project was that they flipped the script and redefined the patient as the consumer. Through the user research they found that the young women did not see themselves as patients and they did not feel like they needed medical interventions. Taking a strictly medical approach to preventing HIV would therefore be challenging.

Screenshot from Matchboxology’s presentation during AIDS2020Virtual. Redefining the patient as the consumer in an HIV prevention campaign.

The team redefined the paradigm of HIV prevention as something that focuses on self-empowerment rather than on the message of not getting HIV. They collaborated with young people across South Africa and the private sector to create a brand that presents PrEP as something equally as fun and desirable as makeup and fashion. The successful project developed the brand V, which included visuals, messaging, packaging and brand ambassadors to help young women protect themselves from HIV by using PrEP.

Screenshot from Matchboxology’s presentation during AIDS2020Virtual. Branded materials used in the South African HIV prevention campaign “V”.

When you understand consumers better, you can disrupt, innovate and generate behavior change!

When asking one of the participants in the design process what she thought the best part of the human centered design process was, she fittingly described the process as follows: “It’s about what I like, how I define myself, not about how others define me.” 

Additional resources and references

Resources:

The AIDS2020Virtual materials, presentations and cultural exhibitions are now available for free at: https://cattendee.abstractsonline.com/meeting/9289/meeting-info

Read more information about the “V”- campaign and the design process here: https://www.prepwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Research_and_background.pdf

References:

Avert. 2020. HIV and AIDS in South Africa. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/south-africa#:~:text=South%20Africa%20has%20the%20biggest,and%20people%20who%20inject%20drugs.

Hivpoint. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis for HIV. https://hivpoint.fi/en/hiv-and-aids-information/pre-exposure-prophylaxis-hiv-prep/

Written by: Michelle Sahal Estimé

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