Community Engagement Improves STD Testing and Treatment in Asia by Allison Mathews


Researchers, policy-makers, physicians and students convened for the 2017 UNC-South China International Summit for STD Prevention and Control and Expert Consultation on Advancing Implementation Research on Syphilis, HIV and Hepatitis in Asia in Guangzhou, China, and the 2017 International Symposium on STD Clinical Services Improvement for High-Risk Populations in Shenzhen, China, from Sept. 21 to 28, 2017. Researchers presented on the state of the HIV/STD epidemic in Asia and consulted on ways to improve approaches for prevention, testing, and treatment. One main priority for the meeting was to to identify and evaluate new ways to combat the epidemic.

To be sure, the need to find new ways to combat the HIV/STI epidemic is not new. We have been dealing with the same problems for decades: the lack of systematic screening for STIs in pregnant women has been a longstanding problem in several Asian countries and worldwide. There are few sexual health promotion clinics that are openly gay-friendly or focus on serving men who have sex with men (MSM). Additionally, there are limited resources to monitor and evaluate outreach, especially among key populations from marginalized communities. However, the summits in Guangzhou and Shenzhen offered opportunities for a multi-sectoral examination of new mechanisms to improve prevention, testing, and treatment of HIV/STIs in key populations.

Ground-up approaches using community engagement were shown to be effective at improving testing and treatment of key populations in Asian countries. Crowdsourcing contests were one method used to identify innovative solutions to transform the way we conduct testing and treatment of key populations. Crowdsourcing is a bottom-up approach where people work collaboratively to develop effective solutions. Contests are a subset of crowdsourcing approaches that elicit submissions to solve a specific problem, where entries are judged by an expert panel and finalists are celebrated.

Weiming Tang of UNC Project-China and colleagues recently completed a study using crowdsourcing contests to improve HIV testing among MSM in China. The findings suggest that using crowdsourced messages designed by community members for community members may be more effective at promoting HIV testing among MSM in China than campaign messages developed from the top-down.

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