Game design professor to help combat spread of HIV in Mexico City

Elena Bertozzi
Elena Bertozzi, associate professor of game design and development, has been selected to assist the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico and the Research Consortium on HIV/AIDS and TB to create a game-based intervention to educate men who have sex with men in Mexico about preventing HIV.

June 6, 2014 Elena Bertozzi, associate professor of game design and development, has been selected to assist the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico and the Research Consortium on HIV/AIDS and TB to create a game-based intervention to educate men who have sex with men in Mexico about preventing HIV.

Bertozzi and a team that includes Quinnipiac game design and development students are building the game and structuring the interface for the gamification platform for researchers at the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico and the Research Consortium on HIV/AIDS and TB, which have been selected to receive funding from Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE). GCE funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that attempt to solve persistent global health and development challenges. This was one of more than 50 GCE Round 12 grants announced June 3 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, participants had to propose a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas, including behavior change.

"This project seeks to incentivize the population of men in Mexico City who have sex with other men to get tested for HIV and encourage linkage to care through a game that creates a community of users and gamification strategies that reinforce desired health outcomes," Bertozzi said. "We believe that the use of game-like rewards and motivations outside of traditional game contexts has the potential to offer lower cost and sustainable solutions for changing HIV-related behavior."

HIV prevalence among men who have sex with other men in Mexico is 17 percent nationally and as high as 20 percent in Central Mexico. Though HIV-prevention and care services are widely available, participation in these services remains extremely low, fueling the epidemic. Only 32 percent of HIV-infected gay men know their status, indicating that existing clinic- and venue-based interventions have had very limited success in increasing uptake of HIV testing and linkage to care, Bertozzi said.

"We believe that this young technologically savvy group, whose median age is 27, will be responsive to a highly innovative approach to behavioral change using gamification principles and elements within a web-based setting."

Bertozzi will work on the project with Sergio Bautista-Arredondo, director of the Division of Health Economics and Health Systems Innovations at the National Institute of Public Health, Mexico, and Raluca Buzdugan, an epidemiologist at U.C. Berkeley.

Bertozzi, who joined the Quinnipiac faculty in 2013, earned her doctorate in media and communication at the European Graduate School, Leuk Stadt. She holds master's degrees from Indiana University in library science and communication, and a bachelor's degree in English from Williams College.