Crowdsourcing to Improve HIV and Sexual Health Outcomes: a Scoping Review


Purpose of Review

This review synthesizes evidence on the use of crowdsourcing to improve HIV/sexual health outcomes.

Recent Findings

We identified 15 studies, including four completed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), one planned RCT, nine completed observational studies, and one planned observational study. Three of the four RCTs suggested that crowdsourcing is an effective, low-cost approach for improving HIV testing and condom use among key populations. Results from the observational studies revealed diverse applications of crowdsourcing to inform policy, research, and intervention development related to HIV/sexual health services.


Crowdsourcing can be an effective tool for informing the design and implementation of HIV/sexual health interventions, spurring innovation in sexual health research, and increasing community engagement in sexual health campaigns. More research is needed to examine the feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of crowdsourcing interventions, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.

    Rhodes SD, Malow RM, Jolly C. Community-based participatory research: a new and not-so-new approach to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment. AIDS Educ Prev. 2010;22(3):173–83.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Tucker JD, Day S, Tang W, Bayus B. Crowdsourcing in medical research: concepts and applications. PeerJ. 2019;6:In Press.

  3. 3.

    Haas D, Ansel J, Gu L, Marcus A. Argonaut: macrotask crowdsourcing for complex data processing. Proceed VLDB Endowment. 2015;8(12):1642–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Behrend TS, Sharek DJ, Meade AW, Wiebe EN. The viability of crowdsourcing for survey research. Behav Res Methods. 2011;43(3):800–13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Chunara R, Chhaya V, Bane S, Mekaru SR, Chan EH, Freifeld CC, et al. Online reporting for malaria surveillance using micro-monetary incentives, in urban India 2010-2011. Malar J. 2012;11(1):1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Freifeld CC, Chunara R, Mekaru SR, Chan EH, Kass-Hout T, Ayala Iacucci A, et al. Participatory epidemiology: use of mobile phones for community-based health reporting. PLoS Med. 2010;7(12):e1000376.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Ong JJ, Bilardi JE, Tucker JD. Wisdom of the crowds: crowd-based development of a logo for a conference using a crowdsourcing contest. Sex Transm Dis. 2017;44(10):630–6.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Mermin J, Fenton KA. The future of HIV prevention in the United States. JAMA. 2012;308(4):347–8.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    •• TDR. Crowdsourcing contests in health and health research: a practical guide. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Available at: This WHO/TDR practical guide on crowdsourcing in health and health research provides several examples relevant to HIV.

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Tang W, Han L, Best J, Zhang Y, Mollan K, Kim J, et al. Crowdsourcing HIV test promotion videos: a noninferiority randomized controlled trial in China. Clin Infect Dis. 2016;62(11):1436–42.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Crequit P, Mansouri G, Benchoufi M, Vivot A, Ravaud P. Mapping of crowdsourcing in health: systematic review. J Med Internet Res. 2018;20(5):e187.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Wazny K. Applications of crowdsourcing in health: an overview. J Glob Health. 2018;8(1):010502.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    •• Tang W, Wei C, Cao B, Wu D, Li KT, Lu H, et al. Crowdsourcing to expand HIV testing among men who have sex with men in China: a closed cohort stepped wedge cluster randomized controlled trial. PLoS Med. 2018;15(8):e1002645. This study used a stepped wedge cluster randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effect of a crowdsourced HIV intervention on HIV testing uptake among men who have sex with men (MSM) in eight Chinese cities.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Tang W, Mao J, Liu C, Mollan K, Zhang Y, Tang S, et al. Reimagining health communication: a non-inferiority randomized controlled trial of crowdsourced intervention in China. Sex Transm Dis. 2018.

  15. 15.

    Fitzpatrick T, Zhou K, Cheng Y, Chan P-L, Cui F, Tang W, et al. A crowdsourced intervention to promote hepatitis B and C testing among men who have sex with men in China: study protocol for a nationwide online randomized controlled trial. BMC Infect Dis. 2018;18(1):489.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    • Catallozzi M, Ebel SC, Chavez NR, Shearer LS, Mindel A, Rosenthal SL. Understanding perceptions of genital herpes disclosure through analysis of an online video contest. Sex Transm Infect. 2013;89(8):650–2. This study used crowdsourcing to identify lay perspectives on HSV disclosure.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    • Hildebrand M, Ahumada C, Watson S. CrowdOutAIDS: crowdsourcing youth perspectives for action. Reprod Health Matters. 2013;21(41):57–68. This study used crowdsourcing to identify major priorities and strategic actions regarding HIV among youth.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    McGregor JA, French JI, Jones J, Perhach M. Crowdsourced analysis of GBS perinatal disease as a sexually transmissible infection (STI) underscores need for GBS vaccine and patient education regarding GBS as an STI to be able to make well-informed sexual practice choices. Sex Transm Dis. 2014;41:S147.

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Shearer LS, Simmons L, Mindel A, Stanberry LR, Rosenthal SL. Reducing the stigma of herpes simplex virus infection: lessons from an online video contest. Sex Health. 2012;9(5):438–44.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    • Winskell K, Enger D. A new way of perceiving the pandemic: the findings from a participatory research process on young Africans’ stories about HIV/AIDS. Cult Health Sex. 2009;11(4):453–67. This is one of the earliest and largest crowdsourced studies that solicited stories about HIV from young Africans.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Zhang Y, Kim JA, Liu F, Tso LS, Tang W, Wei C, et al. Creative contributory contests to spur innovation in sexual health: 2 cases and a guide for implementation. Sex Transm Dis. 2015;42(11):625–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Mathews A, Farley S, Blumberg M, Knight K, Hightow-Weidman L, Muessig K, et al. HIV cure research community engagement in North Carolina: a mixed-methods evaluation of a crowdsourcing contest. J Virus Erad. 2017;3(4):223.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Akwara P, Alayon S, Barry S, Lettenmeaier C, David V, Magumba G, et al. Delivery of improved services for health (DISH) project, Uganda. In: The 124th annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. New York; 1996. Available at: Accessed 28 May 2019.

  24. 24.

    Avery M. Crowdsourcing for PrEP in Thailand, vol. 22. Amsterdam: World AIDS Conference; 2018.

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Wang C, Mollan KR, Hudgens MG, Tucker JD, Zheng H, Tang W, et al. Generalisability of an online randomised controlled trial: an empirical analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2018;72(2):173–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Winskell K, Beres LK, Hill E, Mbakwem BC, Obyerodhyambo O. Making sense of abstinence: social representations in young Africans’ HIV-related narratives from six countries. Cult Health Sex. 2011;13(8):945–59.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Winskell K, Obyerodhyambo O, Stephenson R. Making sense of condoms: social representations in young people’s HIV-related narratives from six African countries. Soc Sci Med (1982). 2011;72(6):953–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    My voice my choice. Accessed 28 May 2019.

  29. 29.

    5R34MH116725. Accessed 28 May 2019.

  30. 30.

    Wu D, Best LL, Stein G, Tang W, Tucker JD, Team HCC. Community participation in a lancet healthy cities in China commission. Lancet Planet Health. 2018;2(6):e241-e2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank Jennifer Walker from UNC and SESH members for their contributions to this manuscript. This study received support from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID 1R01AI114310-01), UNC-South China STD Research Training Center (FIC 1D43TW009532-01), UNC Center for AIDS Research (NIAID 5P30AI050410), National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFE0103800), SESH (Social Entrepreneurship to Spur Health) Global, and Mid-career mentoring grant (K24AI143471). The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph D. Tucker.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Implementation Science

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 23 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tang, W., Ritchwood, T.D., Wu, D. et al. Crowdsourcing to Improve HIV and Sexual Health Outcomes: a Scoping Review. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep 16, 270–278 (2019).

Download citation


  • HIV
  • Sexual health
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Quantitative evidence
  • Contests