Women, particularly, younger women, are specifically vulnerable to HIV—not just because of physiological factors, but also on account of gender inequalities in education, access to healthcare and economic opportunities. Against the backdrop of these challenges, new and innovative methods for generating awareness in high-prevalence countries must be developed if the UN Sustainable Goals target of stopping HIV by 2030 is to be achieved. South Africa, which has the largest HIV-positive population, has come up with a risk perception based computer game to create awareness among teenage girls—who are thrice as likely to contract HIV than boys their age.
A 2014 project by the Western Cape Town government, the University of Cape Town and ideas42, an organisation that uses behavioural sciences to design solutions to social sector problems, found that the girls perceived older men to be safer sexual partners than boys their age, while the former were a more riskier option with higher HIV-prevalence than the latter. To tackle this misconception, a sample of adolescents from low-income families in Cape Town was selected and divided into a test group and a control group. The control group was given extensive literature on HIV and sexual risk, including a discussion of the relative risks by age. The test group subjects, on the other hand, played a computer game where they were given the age and sex of two randomly selected individuals and they had to guess who was more likely to have HIV. They received immediate feedback on their responses, allowing them to profile HIV-status based on age. The result—63% of the test group subjects identified HIV status of individuals in a later test correctly, compared with only 28% of those in the control group. The knowledge gained also persisted with the test-group girls longer. Gamification is increasingly being seen as an effective tool for public health awareness given it increases the salience of the knowledge gained. India could use this to change sanitation and hygiene standards in target groups just as much as for creating HIV awareness.