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“We talked online for two months, then I came to Bangkok to meet him.We met at a shopping mall, then went to a hotel nearby.” A year later, in 2011, Nest got his first smart phone and discovered mobile dating apps.“In order to tackle this issue, governments need better data on adolescents, strategies for HIV prevention, and adolescent-specific laws and policies,” says Shirley Mark Prabhu, HIV Specialist for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific.“These should include sex education in schools, condom distribution, and HIV testing and treatment services designed for adolescents.” In Thailand, for example, UNICEF has worked with the Government to reduce the age of consent for HIV tests to under 18, so that adolescents can access testing services without adult consent, which otherwise might act as a deterrent.In addition, research on young at-risk communities has helped better understand behaviours that put adolescents at risk of HIV and to advocate for adolescent-specific strategies for HIV prevention.In China, UNICEF is reaching out directly to young gay men via the apps they use to hook up.Like many other gay adolescents, he uses mobile apps to meet up for dates. “I don’t like to have sex at the first meeting, I prefer to chat and get to know the person first.
By connecting adolescents to a larger network of potential sexual partners, the apps also enable any HIV infections to spread further and faster.“I’ve known I was gay since I was 11 or 12,” he says.“I’ve never hidden it, and I didn’t have any trouble at school – most of my friends are gay or transgender, and my teachers liked me because I worked hard.As a contributor to Tom's Guide he's found a happy middle ground writing about apps, mobile gaming and other geekery.The changing social landscape brought on by new technology has helped create a ‘hidden epidemic’ of HIV among adolescents in the Asia-Pacific region.
The epidemic is growing fastest among young gay and bisexual men, and the rise of mobile dating apps is one of the key driving factors.