WYZ: Youth Living with HIV


Thanks to developments in HIV treatment and prevention, only around 300 people are diagnosed with HIV in San Francisco per year. But for those 300, especially those within the 18-29 age range, an HIV diagnosis brings feelings of confusion, uncertainty, loneliness, and fear for the future.

To help restore control to HIV-diagnosed patients, we assisted Parya Saberi (Assistant Professor at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS)) in developing WYZ (pronounced “wise”), a mobile health app that:

  • Helps patients track and remember to take their medications,
  • Simplifies communication between providers and patients, and
  • Builds a community to help reduce the stigma of HIV.


Our tiered design and development approach allowed us to prioritize features without blowing the budget.

When Parya first came to us, she needed help in turning her ideas into an application that could be prototyped. Each phase of the project iteratively worked to expand ideas into concrete features and actual code over the project’s duration.

Our participatory design workshops with youth living with HIV enabled us to refine WYZ’s features.

These workshops enabled us to prioritize the app’s most useful features, including:

  • Medication reminders
  • Adherence and refill tracking
  • Lab result access
  • Healthcare team access
  • Community resources identification
  • Social networking functions

Our technical know-how allowed Parya to develop a user-friendly app from her ideas and her formative research.  

We built WYZ as an iOS mobile application with a RedCap backend. iOS fit our target user group’s preferences, and RedCap was selected for its security and no licensing costs.

WYZ has been field tested over one month. All users scored it high in terms of its usability and the likelihood of recommending the app to others.


We worked with internal UCSF partners Dr. Parya Saberi (CAPS) and the enterprise IT group Academic Research Systems (ARS).

CAPS is one of the world’s largest research centers dedicated to social, behavioral, and policy science approaches to HIV. Parya develops technology-based strategies to improve antiretroviral adherence and engagement in HIV care for youth living with HIV.

ARS provides an integrated repository of clinical and life sciences data and a centralized, secure, professionally managed infrastructure for data storage and management.


HIV can be an isolating condition, and a critical aspect for newly diagnosed youth is to feel a part of a community while also maintaining their privacy.

With Parya and the youth, we explored methods to create a balance between anonymity and community for WYZ users, as well as resources and reminders to help patients feel in control.

Parya initially worked with an external development agency. The intricacies of the project, however, led to rising costs.

Parya sought the advice of a previous ISU client who recommended she contact us. Unlike the external agency, we kept costs low by using the university’s resources such as the secure RedCap database for storing participant information. 

More information

This project received funding from the NIH National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). We continue to develop WYZ with a third party. Parya is currently waiting additional grant funding from NIMH to continue further development of WYZ.