Effect of a WeChat-Based intervention (Run4Love) on depressive symptoms among people living with HIV in China: A randomized controlled trial

Yan Guo, Y. Alicia Hong, Weiping Cai, Linghua Li, Yuantao Hao, Jiaying Qiao, Zhimeng Xu, Hanxi Zhang, Chengbo Zeng, Cong Liu, Yiran Li, Mengting Zhu, Yu Zeng, Frank J. Penedo

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14 Scopus citations


Background: People living with HIV (PLWH) have high rates of depressive symptoms. However, only a few effective mental health interventions exist for this vulnerable population. Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the efficacy of a WeChat-based intervention, Run4Love, with a randomized controlled trial among 300 people living with HIV and depression (PLWHD) in China. Methods: We recruited PLWH from the HIV outpatient clinic in South China. Participants were screened based on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale. Those who scored 16 or higher were eligible to participate. A total of 300 eligible patients were enrolled. After obtaining informed consent from the participants, completion of a baseline survey, and collection of participants' hair samples for measuring cortisol, the participants were randomly assigned to an intervention or a control group in a 1:1 ratio. The intervention group received the Run4Love program, delivered via the popular social media app WeChat. Cognitive behavioral stress management courses and weekly reminders of exercise were delivered in a multimedia format. Participants' progress was monitored with timely and tailored feedback. The control group received usual care and a brochure on nutrition for PLWH. Data were collected at 3, 6, and 9 months. The primary outcome was depression, which was measured by a validated instrument. Results: Participants in the intervention and control groups were comparable at baseline; about 91.3% (139/150), 88.3% (132/150), and 86.7% (130/150) participants completed the 3-, 6-, and 9-month follow-ups, respectively. At the 3-month follow-up, a significant reduction in CES-D score was observed in the intervention group (from 23.9 to 17.7 vs from 24.3 to 23.8; mean difference=-5.77, 95% CI -7.82 to -3.71; P<.001; standard effect size d=0.66). The mean changes in CES-D score from baseline to the 6- and 9-month follow-ups between the two groups remained statistically significant. No adverse events were reported. Conclusions: The WeChat-based mobile health (mHealth) intervention Run4Love significantly reduced depressive symptoms among PLWHD, and the effect was sustained. An app-based mHealth intervention could provide a feasible therapeutic option for many PLWHD in resource-limited settings. Further research is needed to assess generalizability and cost-effectiveness of this intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere16715
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Depression
  • HIV
  • MHealth
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • WeChat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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