A ccording to the United Nations, increased use of mobile dating and hookup apps may be playing a role in a sharp spike of new HIV infections in Asia's young, gay male population.
As education about the transmission of HIV/AIDS has become more prevalent and safer sex initiatives have been deployed, the number of new HIV infections have fallen globally. But the UN found that not to be the case in certain places where cultural stigma against homosexuality is still prevalent.
Hookup apps, UNICEF HIV/AIDS adviser Wing-Sie Cheng explained to The Guardian , are playing a key role in facilitating sexual encounters in adolescents between the ages of 10–19, a group that's now bearing a disproportionate percentage of the region's new HIV infections.
Between the stigmatization, secrecy, and lack of LGBT youth outreach programs designed specifically to address the sexually-related public health needs of the population, the UN explained, fewer than half of the some 220,000 youths living with HIV are receiving treatment.
“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," Cheng told the Guardian. “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.”
The UN estimates that in 2014 alone, young people aged 15–19 accounted for about 50,000, or 15% of new infections in the Asia-Pacific region. The key to stopping the spike? More comprehensive data collection on young, sexually active people, and an overhaul of local legislation that keeps many young people from accessing to HIV testing.
In certain countries, hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff have made concerted efforts at using their popular platforms to alert users as to when and where they can easily sign up for STI panels and spread awareness about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) like Truvada. These initiatives don't work, however, when there's little to no groundwork laid by local governments and organizations to actually provide these services.
The UN points out that of the entire affected region examined in the study, only 10 of the member countries had laws in place that made it possible for people under the age of 18 to even request an HIV test within parental consent.
”We want all adolescents regardless of where they live or who they are to enjoy every opportunity to grow into healthy and productive adults,” Steve Kraus, Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific Region, said in a press release. “But this is only possible if their rights to HIV combination prevention and sexual and reproductive health services are respected. We must ensure that no barrier stands in their way.”