Feature story

Online games fighting HIV stigma and discrimination in the Islamic Republic of Iran

16 June 2020

The UNAIDS Country Office for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the country’s branch of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations have been collaborating on new ways of making an impact on the national AIDS response since 2013.

In the past, the collaborations have included public awareness campaigns, educational workshops, field visits and week-long summer schools open to health-care students.

“The summer schools were more than inspiring, they made us confident about our next area of focus: acting against HIV-related stigma and discrimination,” said Aidin Parnia, one of the founders of the summer schools and of the Avecene Consultancy.

Started by people who had attended the summer schools, the Avecene Consultancy was formed to mobilize the accumulated knowledge and experience of the summer schools and to combine them with modern and up-to-date educational developments. The result is the REDXIR educational online platform, which uses games to change the attitude and behaviour of health-care students in order to bring about a future generation of discrimination-free health-care professionals.

Set in an imaginary world where the players are a young group that battles a mysterious enemy that symbolizes HIV-related stigma and discrimination, the goal of REDXIR is to fight back and defeat stigma and discrimination.

The 10 levels of the game are designed to challenge the students’ knowledge of HIV and their attitude and behaviour towards people living with the virus. For example, in the Blood Pressure level of the game, the students have to take the blood pressure of a person living with HIV to show that he or she can do so without discrimination. At higher levels, they should be able to take a blood sugar test and a blood sample for a routine laboratory test.

While some of the levels are performed virtually, others need action to be taken in the real world. For example, in the Do Not Be Silent level, the students must recognize discriminatory posts on social media, post #Zerodiscrimination below at least one of the social media feeds they see and comment on the reason why the content is discriminatory. In the Campaign level, the students participate as trainers in an HIV awareness campaign.

“New generations need new platforms. REDXIR, through its user-friendly approach where students are in direct contact with the target populations, has proved to be an effective way to help eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination in health-care settings,” said Parvin Kazerouni, the Head of the HIV Control Department of the Center for Communicable Disease Control of the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education and the National AIDS Manager.

“REDXIR shows how creative and innovative approaches can embrace and support the novel ideas of young people to address issues such as stigma and discrimination,” said Fardad Doroudi, the UNAIDS Country Director for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The UNAIDS country office provided technical and financial support for REDXIR.