Across the Asia and Pacific region, men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people are significantly affected by HIV and AIDS. As prevention programs have generally been insufficient to meet their needs, new HIV cases among these populations are increasing fast, particularly in cities throughout the region.
Indonesia more generally and Jakarta in particular are no exception to this. HIV prevalence rates among high-risk MSM in Jakarta have quadrupled within the last eight years, from 8% in 2007 to 32% in 2015, and increased fourteen-fold since 2002. Rates in other urban areas have similarly exploded within the last few years, ranging between 13% and 36% in the five surveyed cities in 2015. Furthermore, STI rates among MSM were also high, with national rates of 15.7% suffering from syphilis, 12.7% from gonorrhea infection, and 18.5% suffering from chlamydia (IBBS 2015).
High risk behaviors remain widespread despite several years of limited interventions. While consistent condom use for anal intercourse with casual partners during the last month has increased in recent years, 39% still reported at least one episode of unprotected anal intercourse with a casual male partner within the last 30 days. With the currently very high prevalence rates among MSM across Indonesia and many recent infections, these men are at high risk of contracting HIV and other STIs or infecting their partners (IBBS 2015).
The advent of new information technologies within the last two decades has opened up a myriad of new possibilities. Social media sites and dating apps offer potentially unprecedented access to millions of people of all ages and backgrounds to interact with each other, and create, modify and share content at a very low cost. In Indonesia the use of the internet, social networking websites and mobile apps is very widespread. MSM seem to be particularly active users of these new technologies, as they open up new spaces of communication, knowledge exchange and belonging for otherwise marginalized members of society.
In recent years, smartphone dating apps targeting MSM (such as Hornet, Grindr, Scruff, GROWLr, Jack’d, etc.) have expanded the options for spontaneous casual sex as never before. An ever increasing number of MSM are now using mobile dating apps to meet other guys for sex, with many having more casual sex with more people as a result. Without proper knowledge of sexual health, HIV and AIDS, and safer sex, these men are at high risk of getting infected with HIV and or other STIs.
However, social media and mobile apps can also serve as a powerful tool to collect data, to interact with these populations about health promotion messages, and to share and disseminate health information. Hornet, which is a social gay network with more than seven million users worldwide, is a great example of this. Along with creating online space for MSM to meet each other, Hornet also provides health information and links its users to health and support services. Previously, Hornet has worked with the United States Government to feature HIV support inside the app. In the Philippines, Hornet has cooperated with “Love Yourself” to increase HIV testing services uptake among gay men. The app also has a setting called “Know Your Status”, where members can choose to disclose their HIV status, including options such as “undetectable viral load” and “negative and on PrEP”. And currently Hornet and MSMGF are rolling out a global campaign called “Blue Ribbon Boys” to encourage testing among gay men, which will soon be launched in Asian countries.
Now Hornet has approached Angsamerah Institution in an effort to reach out and support the MSM community in Indonesia. Angsamerah Institution has been successfully running two private sexual health clinics in Jakarta, which provide high-quality, friendly, and private services to all members of society, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, profession or marital status. Both clinics are very popular among MSM, who make up roughly 50% of its clients, about 40% of whom are 25 years or younger. Angsamerah provides free HIV testing and consultations for young clients up to the age of 25 years at its foundation’s clinic, which is called Klinik Yayasan Angsamerah. This free HIV testing campaign is financed by COFRA Foundation, thus allowing young people to access fast, anonymous and free HIV testing at the clinic, while at the same time contributing towards the clinic’s operational costs. Hornet will now generously support this campaign by placing a free ad promoting the clinic and free HIV testing campaign on its app, and sending broadcast messages to its users who are 25 years or younger. This pilot will last for 4 weeks, and will subsequently be evaluated to plan future collaborations.
It is hoped that this innovative collaboration between Hornet and Angsamerah will lead to an increased uptake of HIV testing services among young MSM at the clinic. Those who test positive will subsequently be provided with high-quality, friendly and affordable care and treatment services at the clinic, and those who are HIV negative will receive the prevention tools tailored to their needs without fear of being judged. Moreover, Angsamerah will also link these young men to other support services within its wide network of partners if needed. This includes community organizations, support groups, and referral health services.
The link to our campaign brochure can be accessed here.
More articles and links to other important websites about HIV can be accessed here (Indonesian language).