The Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS) has set up an online intervention initiative for HIV awareness, to assist vulnerable people looking for a physical relationship on dating apps and social networking websites. MDACS, with the help of an NGO, has appointed HIV caregivers. These caregivers have set up accounts on seven dating apps and approach those online to create awareness among the vulnerable and motivate them to get HIV and STD screenings. If an individual agrees to a screening, then they are directed to the nearest BMC or government-run health centre, with a zero-wait policy.
“These employees are working to spread awareness of HIV and encourage them to get HIV screening. With this positive initiative, people are advised to ascertain their HIV status and thus avoid the disease and practise safe sex. In today’s virtual era, people are using a lot of dating apps and social networking websites to find a partner. Across the gender spectrum, there are users of these apps,” said a senior doctor.
Survey Conducted To Identify Likes & Habits Of Trans People
The MDACS had conducted a study to identify the likes, habits and dating apps used online by gay and transgender people. The study sought to establish their sexual behaviour, whether they formed group relations, attended parties, and importantly, whether they had information about their HIV status or not.
An MDACS official said the study included 8,582 gay and 4,163 transgender people and it revealed that 48 per cent of those identifying as gay were using the Grindr app for dating, followed by Facebook (42 per cent) and blued app (36 per cent). Further, the study showed that 88 per cent of gays had mobiles, while 51 per cent of transgenders had these. When it came to internet access, once again, gays were more active on social media (78 per cent) as compared to transgenders (27 per cent).
“The study was useful, as it helped us learn that 28 per cent of gays loved to party, as compared to transgenders. Sixteen per cent confessed to joining groups for physical relations, while 25 per cent did so for relationship; both gays (17%) and transgenders (12 per cent) conceded having unprotected sex,” said an official.
Plans for the virtual ICTC centres are based on the findings of the inhibitions shared by people on these platforms. Once a person from one of these platforms is convinced by a counsellor to use a government facility, the counsellors at the respective centres are filled in about the expectations, the day of visit and other details.
NGOs have helped pilot the virtual outreach model. Under this, trained counsellors interacted with vulnerable populations like the LGBTQ community, through social media and dating apps. They took people into confidence to undergo HIV testing and other screenings.
Project Director Highlights Risks Of STDs
Dr Vijay Karanjkar, additional project director, MDACS, said there was a risk of HIV or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in unsafe physical relationships with more than one sexual partner. This is where internet-based intervention has played an important role, by reaching out to people and creating awareness about HIV and STD through HIV caregivers.
“We had launched HIV caregivers in 2020, as a pilot project in collaboration with Path NGO, which had appointed caregivers and all information related to HIV was given to them. In the last two years, HIV caregivers reached out to 84,385 people through a message, of whom 13,537 responded but only 1,166 of the responders came forward to get themselves checked for HIV and STDs,” he said.
Dr Karanjkar added, “We have tried to reach out to all sections, online or offline, to prevent HIV. Our caregivers ensure that confidentiality is maintained and if they are ready for HIV and STD screening, then they are sent to a centre close to them, on the basis of zero-waiting policy.”