April, 22 2014 08:23:02

Internet HIV prevention efforts prove successful

A man visits a website that provides information about HIV transmission and prevention. — VNS Photo Doan Tung

by Gia Loc

HCM CITY (VNS)— Le Son of HCM City openly admits that he has been using smartphone applications to contact other men for friendship.

"Smartphone applications such as Jacks, Grindr, Boyahoy and Hornet can help me seek men who have sex with men (known as MSM) within a radius of 10 kilometres," Son said in a recent interview.

Son was chosen by the HCM City's AIDS Prevention Committee to head an online HIV intervention group for MSM to provide knowledge about HIV transmission and prevention.

He said it had been difficult to persuade the men to take HIV tests because of fears about discrimination and a lack of privacy.

Apart from smartphone applications, Son has also used online dating sites or chatrooms where MSM congregate to spread the word about the importance of HIV tests.

"Smartphone applications and the internet are the best tools to engage MSM in the city's HIV prevention programme," Son said.

Nguyen Thi Hue, head of the AIDS Prevention Committee's Harm Reduction Division, said the use of an internet-based outreach was based on the findings of surveys of 20 internet forums and chatrooms for MSM seeking dating partners.

Dr Donn J. Colby, senior technical advisor for the Centre for Applied Research on Men and Health in HCM City, said 99 per cent of MSM in the city use the internet for many purposes, including seeking information for HIV prevention and care, based on research conducted at the centre.

"MSM are a small subgroup of the population so we cannot reach them on TV or with billboards on the street," he said.

"We have to go where MSM are, and at this time it appears they are on the internet," he said, adding that there was not one location where even one per cent of MSM could be found at any given time.

From July 2012 to June 2013, Hue said that internet-based outreach contacted 5,481 men, with only 507 of them willing to seek HIV counselling and testing services. Forty-one of them tested positive for HIV.

The centre's target is to reach more and more MSM and increase the number of MSM using voluntary HIV tests in order to detect HIV early and provide treatment.

An internet-based approach saves costs as well, Hue said, adding that only VND215 million (US$10,240) was allocated for internet outreach, while the division had spent VND3.2 billion ($152,380) for traditional outreach programmes.

"These positive results have encouraged us to continue an internet-based outreach, and we will increasingly use apps," Hue said.

The division's report shows that HIV prevalence among MSM in HCM City was about 15 per cent annually between 2011 and 2013, rising from 5.4 per cent in 2006.

According to the findings of a cross-sectional survey conducted by Colby, published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes in 2003, the mean number of sexual partners for MSM was 3.3 in one month.

Only 32 per cent of 219 surveyed MSM used condoms when having sex and only 50 per cent had knowledge of HIV transmission and prevention, the survey findings showed. — VNS

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