ACON, one of Australia’s largest HIV organizations, working to promote HIV prevention strategies among gay men and other men who have sex with men in New South Wales, Australia, has recently launched a new campaign video that enlists some of Asia’s most popular social media influencers.
The campaign aims to raise awareness and promote the uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), particularly among Mandarin-speaking gay men and other men who have sex with men. The campaign addresses frequently asked questions about PrEP and features Fufu and Josh, also known on social media as FJ234, YouTube personalities with a following of 350 000 subscribers. The pair appear alongside a leading doctor and PrEP advocate, Stephane Wen-Wei Ku, who in the campaign breaks down information on PrEP through relatable and humorous conversations.
“PrEP is a good tool to protect yourself, even if you are not ready to talk about sex with your partner. So, we could all have a great sex life without worrying about HIV,” Josh and Fufu explained.
In Asia and the Pacific, civil society organizations in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines have turned to social media platforms and other innovative solutions to offer new ways to link communities to PrEP and other prevention options. For example, in Thailand, the PrEP in the City campaign, launched by the Institute of HIV Research and Innovation and supported by the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific and other key partners, aimed to increase PrEP uptake among transgender women by challenging negative perceptions. Likewise, in the Philippines, civil society organizations used innovative programmes to deliver antiretroviral therapy to clients, and PrEP and condoms were frontloaded to community champions for distribution.
“Raising awareness of PrEP, which is an extremely effective strategy for preventing HIV transmission, is fundamental to our efforts in eliminating the virus,” said Nicolas Parkhill, the Chief Executive Officer of ACON, reflecting on the critical role of the campaign in scaling up PrEP among Mandarin-speaking gay communities in New South Wales.
PrEP has had an enormous impact on HIV transmission rates in New South Wales and Australia as a whole since it was first made available in 2016 through various state-based trials, and later in 2018 when it was subsidized under the national Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Currently, there are three main ways to access PrEP in Australia. The most common is through the Australian health-care system at a subsidized cost. Other options include purchasing PrEP from a pharmacy using a private prescription from a doctor or purchasing it from a reputable pharmacy and importing it into Australia under the Personal Importation Scheme. These last two options are particularly important for people who are not covered under the Australian health-care system, such as international students.
“PrEP is now the most commonly used HIV prevention strategy for gay men, but if we are to realize its full potential on reducing HIV transmission in New South Wales, we need to break down barriers and ensure that PrEP is easily accessible to all men in every community. By working with Fufu, Josh, Stephane Wen-Wei Ku and Hotline, we hope the video will be able to help raise awareness and show how effective it is, how easy it is to get and its benefits,” Mr Parkhill added.
The campaign video was developed in partnership between ACON and the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, a sexual health organization. A vital feature of the campaign was that the content was developed with the Mandarin-speaking community, so that the messaging is authentic to Mandarin-speaking men. The video is available in Traditional and Simplified Mandarin, with English subtitles.
“To close the gaps and ensure that no one is left behind, we must foster innovation and scale up access to HIV prevention and treatment services. Strong national commitment to scale up PrEP, adopting national PrEP policies and guidelines, setting ambitious PrEP targets and allocating sufficient resources for PrEP will help countries across the region to get the HIV response back on track. We have the tools to end AIDS. Now we must use them,” said Eamonn Murphy, Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.