IFRC

Battling stigma and increasing HIV/AIDS testing in Asia: Thai Red Cross campaign, ‘Adam’s Love’ expands into Taiwan

Published: 10 September 2015 5:31 CET

This week  the highly successful “Adam’s Love” campaign was launched in Taiwan by ViiV Healthcare and Taipei Veterans General Hospital. Initiated by Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre, the campaign targets men who have sex with men (MSM) and raises awareness on HIV/AIDS.  The Thai Red Cross has run the campaign for the past five years across Thailand, and supported its recent expansion throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Sponsors now hope the campaign’s achievements in Southeast Asia can be replicated in the small island nation of Taiwan, which is experiencing a dramatic rise in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In a traditional society like Taiwan, it is difficult to discuss HIV/AIDS. The subject remains taboo for many people. Since the first case of HIV was reported in 1984, the country has witnessed an increase in  the number of people diagnosed with the virus, particularly among men.  In Taiwan, men who have sex with men account for most new and existing infections; in 2013, the highest proportion of HIV infections was a result of unsafe sexual transmission, MSM accounting for 80 per cent of all cases.

Yet while services exist, reaching out – particularly to the high-risk and hidden sections of the community – remains a significant challenge.

“People don’t believe that hospitals and clinics can provide HIV testing that is really anonymous, and we have been unable to break through to at-risk populations,” said Dr. Wing-Wai Wong, a TREAT Asia Network investigator from the Infectious Diseases and AIDS Unit at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, which has been providing anonymous HIV testing since 1997.

Barriers to seeking testing and treatment include misconceptions about HIV/AIDS; fear that one’s family, employer and community will find out; stigma and discrimination attached to being homosexual; and a general lack of basic HIV awareness in society. These factors coupled together present a serious public health challenge for Taiwan.

This is where the ‘Adam’s Love’ campaign has come in. Conceived and piloted in Thailand by the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre in 2010, the goal of Adam’s Love was to increase the awareness of HIV/AIDS among the MSM community, and encourage safe sex and HIV testing.

The ‘edutainment’ campaign uses high-profile celebrities as ambassadors to break down stigma and emphasizes building strong online resources and social networks.  It’s a model that has worked extremely well. The Thai website has had 1.95 million visitors, with 9.1 million page views, and 1.28 million YouTube educational video views.  But most importantly, the online statistics have translated into real action: over 10,000 users have been referred to HIV/STI testing and/or linked to care via the website. 

In Taiwan, Dr. Wing-Wai Wong and the staff at Taipei Veterans General Hospital are optimistic that the Adam’s Love campaign will be a success.  “I hope this collaboration with Adam’s Love will result in more at-risk individuals  seeking voluntary counseling and testing at our hospital,” said Dr. Wing-Wai Wong.

In addition to providing confidential, HIV services, Dr. Wong and the staff at Taipei Veterans General Hospital have signed on to help design educational web content for Adam’s Love Taiwan. They will play an active role in answering  questions sent through the site’s message boards.

Adam’s Love is also partnering with three additional clinics, in order to help individuals in various locations throughout in Taiwan access convenient, discrimination-free voluntary counseling and testing services. In addition, the campaign will work with gyms and saunas for gay men, in order  to ensure the most at-risk communities are reached.

“The saunas and gyms are very sophisticated and well-established in Taiwan,” said Tarandeep Anand, the campaign director. “These are primary spots for reaching out to the gay community, and we will host testing events and educational sessions at saunas and fitness centres throughout the country,” he continued.

For more information on Adam’s Love and HIV/AIDS services , visit the website http://www.adamslove.org/ and the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre http://en.trcarc.org/

 




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