China currently has over 2,000 government centres and counselling outlets for HIV support, yet many people, particularly young men who are at risk, are reluctant to use them. In order to combat this, Beijing has launched a mobile HIV testing service. This mobile service will provide free testing, primarily for young gay men and support individuals requiring follow up treatment.
The mobile vehicles were showcased in an art exhibition held by the UNAIDS China office and the National Centre for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention Centre to mark Global Zero Discrimination Day, on 1 March 2016. Initially, five minicars have been pioneered – each containing three seats. These cars will travel to places that are popular with gay and bisexual men (e.g., particular bars, restaurants and saunas), as a means of group intervention outreach.
Xiao Dong, head of the mobile team, said that some of the volunteers in the team speak English and so ‘foreigners are welcome to come for the free tests as well’ – no ID is required. These intervention sessions will give individuals the opportunity to be tested with an oral swabbing kit and they will receive results in 15 minutes. For those who test positive, follow-up counselling will be offered, alongside a referral for treatment.
‘It would help supplement current testing methods and reach out to the susceptible more actively,’ said Wu Zunyou, head of the National Centre for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention, as he praised this new and innovative approach to treatment.
Wu stated that the HIV epidemic has affected young gay and bisexual men in particular: in the last year, 81% of HIV cases in male students aged 15-24 were contracted via gay sex. However, Wu highlighted that this group is particularly difficult to reach: ‘they are difficult to reach for intervention using current testing strategies.’
The move has been welcomed by the local LGBT community. Zhao Ke, editor-in-chief of gay magazine Gayspot, said that this new testing method is much more accessible and will help reach this group. He also commented that technology may be a great way to support these men, as many young gay men are using mobile apps to find dates.