Chinese adolescents and youth take the lead to tackle HIV

Before World AIDS Day and right after the launch of China’s first ever National HIV Testing Month, youth leaders from across China are pouring their time and creative efforts to mobilizing their peers to learn facts, share their ideas and encourage each other to seek counseling and testing services. 

 Here we have a few young leaders from a UNICEF supported All In #End Adolescent HIV demonstration project sharing their thoughts, and what they are up to…

 Leyi, from Super Young Youth Peer Counseling Group, Guangzhou on wrapping up a good year for her team

 This year (2018), has been an amazing year.  Looking back through all the tears and laughter, our hardwork is paying off. The highlight this year is that over the summer, our Online to Offline (O2O) model of peer counseling and testing, recommended by UNICEF, made it to the high-level meeting at the International AIDS Conference, as a creative way of getting young people to use HIV counseling and testing, especially for those who would normally not use the services.  That was a proud moment for us all.  This is evidence that we are not the “target population”.  We are problem solvers in the whole equation.

The next greatest thing?  My friends and I visited UNICEF’s Regional Office in Bangkok over the summer, and met UNICEF’s Regional Health Advisor and HIV Specialist.  The planned one-hour visit ended up as three.  We had too many stories to tell, and too much to hear from them.

Around World AIDS Day, we again planned a lot of work for ourselves, and again making considerable progress: first with support from provincial CDC and Guangzhou CDC and nurses from health facilities, we mobilized 27 schools to work with us for the Adolescent Testing Week.  This is the first time we are working with senior middle school and vocational school students to create awareness on HIV and STI counseling and testing. I have counselled many teenagers, and know it is more difficult for them to use services, because they are too far away from the testing site, they are afraid of adults making judgements, and the hours do not agree with their schedule, but we are here to help!

UNICEF ChinaLeyi is talking to a young participant. © 2018 Huang Bin

And guess what?  We traveled to five more cities in Guangdong with nurses and health experts so that young people there can get tested, or learn about our O2O based self-testing.

The other half of my peers are preparing for the World AIDS Day event. I am told the governor will come.  If that is the case, we have a secret plan of getting the governor and leaders to our booth to get an HIV test.

The week before World AIDS Day, we trained teachers in 11 districts in Guangzhou, on prevention, on stigma, on testing. Some of my peers have been invited to Sichuan province on a lecture tour.  In one week we reached over 10,000 young people

Dashuai, Team Leader of Nanjing You and Me Youth Network, Nanjing, on designing an “AIDS Walk” for Youth

The theme of World AIDS Day 2018 is “know your status”.  Since the launch of the National HIV Testing Month on 20 November, my friends and I at the Youth Network in Nanjing have been very encouraged and proud.  Why?  We were one of the first youth groups initiating a testing week for youth in Nanjing and later spread it out to 10 cities.  We even designed and used a mobile based service assessment system in the process.  With our participation and voice, the health service system has now reflected and acted upon making health services more “youth friendly”.

For youth in Nanjing, doing an experiential HIV testing like last year is far from enough. We want to make a greater impact, to be on the frontline, to be part of the action. To that end, the Nanjing You and Me Youth Network initiated a “take steps to test” activity, inventing a health walk with “HIV rapid test experience” stops and learning games stops en route, so young participants can get familiar with CDC and other testing providers.

UNICEF ChinaDashuai, Team Leader of Nanjing You and Me Youth Network © 2018 Wei Yingyu

“AIDS Walk” is no new phenomenon, but this time initiated by youth for youth. We wanted to try to create something engaging and fun, so that the “non-activists” among us are also happy to join.  We held numerous video conferences with our inter-collegiate team, to argue about the best time, the funding, and the programme design, and managed to put it all together.  We explored all possible channels to raise funds – we talked to CDCs and STI clinics, approached foundations, companies, and friendly shop owners along the route, mobilized walkathon step donations, and finally got all the resources in place. We even got Amity Foundation to be our third-party fund management sponsor.

The AIDS Walk will take place on 2 December, but videos and stories are slowly coming in, which we share as promotion of the event. We encourage all participants to share their moments on their social network.

The organization is more troublesome and complicated than I imagined, but the event is slowly coming together.  Why am I doing this?  Because I want to bring my team to a higher level, from youth participation to youth leadership.  We not only know our HIV status, we know our place is front and centre in the whole effort of youth prevention.

Xiaona, young manager of the All In #End Adolescent HIV online platform, on building partnership for youth

 Some say it is hard to get adolescents and young people interested in topics like HIV. As young people, we do not agree. At the All In #End Adolescent HIV new media platform, it is our job to make it relevant and interesting, and never be suspected of preaching. Earlier this year Xiaona was asked to share our work at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, and here are a few things we have tried and worked.

First, how about discussing the latest movies and trending topics? As adolescents are more attracted to visual than text, and they can save content on their cell phones, we started a column to discuss hot topics in the most popular movies and videos, to discuss HIV and STI prevention, sexual health, safe sex and intimacies.

UNICEF ChinaXiaona and her colleague © 2018 Martin Yang

In addition, the online platform is a good place to learn from youth, and form better services to respond to young people’s needs. To better understand current adolescent HIV epidemic and relation with online risky behaviours, we conducted a survey on web-related casual sex, and collected 8,771 valid responses.  The findings and conclusions related to knowledge, behaviour and attitude were creative messages to call for safe sex and self-protection from infection and harm. In March 2018, the survey data, evidence and conclusions were submitted to the National People’s Congress, which attracted significant public attention and media coverage, and awareness of the Health and Education Ministries. We produced various communication materials with leading social media channels, generating views exceeding one million and heated public debate.

In mid-October, we held an offline salon and invited leading experts in HIV, adolescent sexuality education, social media key opinion leaders and youth representatives to discuss adolescent intimacy, internet environment and HIV prevention. Over 80 young people attended, and more viewed the discussions online via livestream on our All-In platform, totaling 127,000 views. Four subsequent articles were published based on the salon content creating wider impact.

There are so many creative ways of combining online and offline activities, I am looking forward to making all our young team’s ideas a reality in the years to come. As of 23 November 2018, total subscriptions (fans) reached over 10,000, with active involvement; total of 42 articles published on platform with highest page view nearing 17,000.  It is very encouraging and we are expecting to break more records around World AIDS Day.

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