The Grapevine

Asia Blames Dating Apps For Rising HIV Rates Among Gay, Bisexual Teens

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A new report from UNICEF says dating apps are partly responsible for the rise in HIV rates among adolescents in the Asia-Pacific region. Pixabay

A new report from UNICEF suggests that the rise of mobile dating apps, like Tinder and Grinder, is one of the key driving factors of the epidemic growing fastest among young gay and bisexual men in the Asia-Pacific region. 

While the rate of new HIV infections among adolescents has been on the decline globally, the number of new HIV cases among teenagers in the Asia-Pacific region seems to be rising. For example, in the Philippines alone, new HIV cases among adolescents rose from an estimated 800 in 2010 to 1,210 in 2014 and 1,403 in 2015. What's more is an estimated 220,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 19 lived with HIV in the region in 2014, with the burden of new infections falling heaviest on major cities like Bangkok and Hong Kong.

"Everybody has a smartphone, everybody has access to the internet. People are setting up fake Facebook profiles where groups are formed purely to arrange for sex. The internet now provides for unlimited sexual opportunities," Niluka Perera, coordinator at Youth Voices Count, told Al Jazeera.

The uptick in new HIV infections has been attributed to risky sexual behavior, a higher number of partners, unprotected sex with an HIV-positive partner, and a low uptake of HIV testing. However, many suggest the explosion of mobile dating apps can be linked to rising rates across the globe. Earlier this year, The Rhode Island Department of Health said its rising rates of syphilis and gonorrhea correlated with the national trend of popular hookup apps, like Tinder.

This technology has "expanded the options for casual spontaneous sex as never before" by connecting adolescents to a larger network of potential sexual partners and enabling any HIV infections to spread further and faster, according to the UNICEF. The organization added this generation of adolescents has been neglected in terms of education on the ways to prevent HIV transmission, as well as how to prolong life among adolescents who have already been diagnosed.

"In order to tackle this issue, governments need better data on adolescents, strategies for HIV prevention, and adolescent-specific laws and policies," Shirley Mark Prabhu, HIV specialist for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, explained in a UNICEF blog post. "These should include sex education in schools, condom distribution, and HIV testing and treatment services designed for adolescents."

Wing-Sie Cheng, regional advisor for HIV and Aids for UNICEF in Bangkok, told BBC the organization is beginning to work with popular smartphone dating apps "to help users act responsibly."

"We need to communicate with them in a way they recognize, in their language," Cheng said. "Our role is not to judge them but to facilitate access to health services."

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