UNC Project-China uses crowdsourcing to promote HIV Testing

UNC’s Project-China partnered with Social Entrepreneurship for Sexual Health (SESH) Global on a successful project that used crowdsourcing to promote awareness of the importance of HIV testing among men who have sex with men (MSM).

The project, “Testing Saves Lives,” asked community organizations that provide HIV testing services across China to submit videos on the importance of getting tested. The videos were judged based on whether they generated interest about HIV testing, proposed ways to reach untested individuals and engaged the community.

Joseph Tucker, M.D., Ph.D., director of UNC Project-China, assistant professor of medicine and co-founder of SESH Global, said that the decision to use crowdsourcing was made in an effort to meet the audience where they are.

“Many vulnerable populations at greater risk for HIV infection access the internet and are active in online forums, but they don’t necessarily seek formal health services,” Tucker said.

Tucker, who is based full time in Guangzhou, China, oversaw this collaboration between UNC’s Project-China and SESH Global.

SESH, a nongovernmental organization focused on creating social change  to improve sexual health, was charged with implementing and promoting the contest. UNC has since been evaluating the process and outcomes.

“We’ve found that these sorts of contests are a low-cost, high-impact way to increase the participation of key populations in their own care,” Tucker said.  

The goal of this contest, Tucker said, was to reduce the stigma that surrounds HIV testing.

"We see these videos as one part of a comprehensive package to help encourage individuals to get tested for HIV. We hope that these videos can help normalize testing and encourage health-seeking behaviors,” Tucker said.

In total, seven eligible entries were submitted through the contest. During an event at Hong Kong University in December 2013, a panel of five judges representing the fields of public health, medicine, anthropology, advocacy and business selected three finalists from three different cities: Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.

Then, the judges met again to select the top video, which was compared to a “traditional” HIV testing video produced by the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control. As part of a randomized, controlled trial conducted by UNC Project-China, study participants watched both videos and were asked which video made them more likely to receive an HIV test. Participants were then contacted one month after watching the video to see if they followed through with testing.

The trial is complete, and Tucker said the data is currently being analyzed.

“Working with, and learning from, the communities directly affected by HIV is by far the best and most efficient way to tackle the expanding epidemic among MSM in China. We know that making sure all those at risk of infection understand their status is a critical component of a strong prevention and control program,” said Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, World Health Organization representative in China.

“This is a great project because it is aimed at finding innovative ways to do this."

Tucker said he was encouraged by the videos submitted and sees progress towards breaking the stigma surrounding HIV testing prevalent in China.

“The winning video showed a young gay couple in China. Given the stigma associated with being gay in China, I was surprised that individuals would be comfortable being part of these sorts of videos, but they were,” Tucker said. “These are slow steps in the right direction.”

Read more about UNC Project China.

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