Global HIV targets ‘could be derailed’ by hook up apps in Asia
A new UN report cites the boom in hook-up apps as one of the drivers of a worsening HIV epidemic in Asia.
The report, released this week, found that HIV infections had surged among young people, aged 10-19, in the Asia-Pacific region. More than 220,000 young people in the region are now living with HIV.
One of the biggest at-risk groups is men who have sex with men (MSM), with the growth of hook-up apps earmarked as a cause for concern. Trans people, injecting drug users and sex workers are also at risk as HIV spreads.
Analysing data from Thailand, it notes: “Bangkok’s intensifying HIV epidemic among young MSM is largely a result of extensive sexual risk-taking, a higher number of partners, overall increased biological vulnerability through unprotected anal sex with an HIV positive partner, low uptake of HIV testing, and an earlier age of first sex – frequently in the low to mid-teens.
“The explosion of smart phone gay dating apps has expanded the options for casual spontaneous sex as never before – mobile app users in the same vicinity (if not the same street) can locate each other and arrange an immediate sexual encounter with a few screen touches.”
It also warns: “Fewer than half of MSM aged under 25 reported using a condom at last anal sex in Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Lao PDR and a mere 17 per cent in Afghanistan.
“Only a minority of adolescents seems to consistently use condoms. For example, in a study in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, almost half of 15-19 year olds surveyed reported inconsistent condom use during anal sex.”
However, the report notes that hook-up app providers are beginning to tackle the issue by providing HIV education and resources.
It notes: “Harnessing technology to the cause of HIV testing is possible with today’s ultra ‘connected’ youth – most of whom in Asia and the Pacific are growing up with mobile or smart phones as part of their lives.
“Popular smart phone dating apps in the region such as Jack’d, Blued and Grindr, while enabling a generation of MSM to meet sexual partners easily, could also be educative.
“Public health experts hope that such apps will become vital conduits promoting sexual health, including HIV messaging and testing.It is starting to happen in Asia.”
Wing-Sie Cheng, HIV/AIDS adviser for UNICEF in east Asia and the Pacific, told the Guardian: “Young gay men themselves have consistently told us that they are now using mobile dating apps to meet up for sex, and are having more casual sex with more people as a result.
“We know that this kind of risky behaviour increases the spread of HIV.
“We are therefore convinced that there is a link, and that we need to work better with mobile app providers to share information about HIV and protect the health of adolescents.”
Researchers also found that adolescents are “more likely to die” from AIDS-related causes, as they are less likely to be diagnosed or seek treatment.