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2021-12-01 07:34:04

In the lead up to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, several Chinese non-profit organizations across the country took to social media to promote awareness on infectious disease, encouraging people to learn of their health status through testing.

The Consultation Center of AIDS Aid and Health Service in the northeastern Liaoning province conducted a livestream on Blued, China’s biggest gay dating and networking app, on Saturday, attracting over 20,000 people during a three-hour session focused on raising awareness on HIV/AIDS. Experts and doctors covered various issues ranging from the importance of getting tested routinely to how to reduce discriminatory practices at home and work.

As of 2020, an estimated 1.05 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in China, according to the latest data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The proportion of heterosexual and homosexual transmission stood at 74.2% and 23.3% in 2020, respectively.

Ma Tiecheng, director of the Liaoning-based non-profit, told Sixth Tone that the organization has been encouraging more people to conduct HIV tests over the year — and their campaign seems to be working. The number of people taking tests through the center has increased from only 200 people per year when the organization started in 2003 to now more than 3,000.

In the past, Ma said they mostly approached people in public places — including parks, bars, and saunas — but have since shifted their focus to social media. He added the online platforms have the potential to reach a larger population, especially younger demographics.

In 2020, nearly 3,000 people aged 15 to 24 were infected with HIV in China, according to the latest white paper released by the office of the AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth and Beijing Changier Education Foundation. While 98.6% of those transmissions were attributed to sexual intercourse, nearly 82% was among men who have sex with men.

That’s one reason Ma is using livestreaming platforms to reach tens of millions of younger people. However, he added that the sites come with their own set of challenges, including the restriction of their content on several sites due to “sensitive” terms in their posts.

“Some stories we produce are inevitably related to sex and sexual transmission, but even if there is no pornographic description, they will still be flagged or blocked,” Ma said.

So the organization often turns to LGBT-specific sites, such as Blued — with additional features such as livestreaming — to reach their target audiences and boost visibility. The app also provides resources on HIV testing and has a network of nearly 7,000 testing locations in more than 30 cities.

“The highest views can reach 1 or 2 million, which was unimaginable in the past,” Ma said, adding that awareness and social support can help end the stigma associated with the disease. “For the public, perhaps World AIDS Day is just a day. But for those living with the infection, they need support every day. Such calls are often silent and can only be heard with the heart.”

Contributions: Liang Jiaqi; editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Volunteers share information on HIV prevention at a park in Fuzhou, Fujian province, Nov. 28, 2021. People Visual)