HIV diagnosis among overseas-born gay and bisexual men, especially those who have come to Australia from Asia, has increased from 28 per cent in 2008 to 52 per cent in 2017, according to the Australian Annual Surveillance report. Now, a new video campaign in Mandarin from ACON hopes to reach out to this vulnerable population to raise awareness about HIV prevention drug PrEP.
The video features popular Taiwan-based social media influencers Fufu and Josh, better known on social media as ‘FJ234’ and sexual health expert Dr Stephane Wen Wei Ku in a trivia challenge about PrEP.
Justin Xiao, Community Health Promotion officer with ACON, told Star Observer that the video, the first from the organisation in a language other that English, aims to meet the gap that was felt in existing HIV-prevention campaigns in Australia.
According to Xiao, campaigns in the past have been from a “white, Western culture centric point of view” that perhaps failed to reach out to different cultural groups.
That could be one of the reasons behind the data that shows that while HIV diagnosis has dropped dramatically in Australia in the past couple of years, “the rate has actually increased among overseas-born gay and bisexual men from Asia, and in particular, those from Mandarin-speaking backgrounds,” said Xiao.
Language and Cultural Barriers
For many Asian gay men, language is not the only barrier to information about HIV and sexual health. As Xiao explained, there also exists cultural barriers when it comes to talking about sex.
“Many Mandarin-speaking gay men don’t know about PrEP or they have heard about it but don’t believe it is right for them,” said Xiao. “We Chinese people tend to say you only take medication when you are actually sick, so to take something that is for prevention is somehow a new concept. Then, there is also a bit of stigma attached to PrEP.”
In the video, Fufu and Josh address these aspects, explaining that PrEP is not only for the so-called high-risk population or those who are more sexually active or taking PrEP doesn’t mean “you are a slut”.
“In Asian cultures, many people are afraid of negotiating sex because they don’t want to feel embarrassed. PrEP is a good tool to protect yourself even if you are not ready to talk about sex with your sex partner. We could all have a great sex life without worrying about HIV,” Josh and Fufu said in a statement.
The hesitancy around talking about sex is common in Asian cultures, said Xiao, and that is excaberated when it comes to sexual orientation and sexual health literacy.
“I struggle with identity, a little bit,” said Xiao, adding, “Many people don’t know that they should get tested for sexually transmitted infections four times a year, many don’t know where to get tested or how HIV is transmitted”.
Eliminating HIV in NSW
ACON is hoping the new campaign will play a significant role in briding the gap and raise awareness about PrEP among Mandarin-speaking gay communities in NSW.
“Raising awareness of PrEP, which is an extremely effective strategy for preventing HIV transmission, is fundamental to our efforts in eliminating the virus in NSW,” CEO Nicolas Parkhill said in a statement.
“We know that men in our communities from Mandarin-speaking Asian backgrounds continue to encounter barriers to appropriate HIV prevention messaging, such as language and culture. This means that we must continue to employ new strategies and initiatives to engage Mandarin-speaking Asian gay men about HIV prevention, including increasing awareness of one of the most effective HIV prevention methods we have available – PrEP.”
PrEP is available to Australians through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme since 2018.
“Collaboration is key to improving awareness of PrEP, and we are extremely grateful to Fufu, Josh, Dr Ku and Hotline for taking part in our campaign. By working with them we hope the video will be able to help educate Mandarin speaking communities about a range of questions relating to PrEP, such as how effective it is, how easy it is to get, and different ways that PrEP can be taken,” added Parkhill.