HIV/AIDS IN THE SOCIAL CONTEXT

In progress

Anticipated HIV Stigma Among HIV Negative Men who have Sex with Men in China: A Cross-Sectional Study. Under review, BMC Infectious Diseases {abstract}

 Background: Anticipated HIV stigma, i.e., the expectation of adverse experiences from one’s seroconversion, is associated with both negative psychological and behavioral outcomes. We know little about anticipated HIV stigma’s relationship with emerging technologies, such as HIV self-testing (HIVST) and online sex-seeking platforms, that have become popular among populations that are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. This study examined correlates of anticipated HIV stigma among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM).

Methods: In July 2016, MSM who were ≥ 16 years old and self-reported as HIV negative or unknown were recruited from a gay mobile phone application in China. Information regarding socio-demographics, sexual behaviors, sexual health service utilization, and anticipated HIV stigma were collected. Anticipated HIV stigma (i.e., negative attitude toward future stigmatization of HIV seroconversion by others) was measured as the mean score from a 7-item Likert-scale ranging from 1 (low) to 4 (high). Generalized linear models were conducted to examine the factors associated with the anticipated HIV stigma scores.

 Results: Overall, 2006 men were recruited. Most men completed high school (1308/2006, 65.2%) and had an annual personal income of ≤ 9200 USD (1431/2006, 71.3%). The mean anticipated HIV stigma score for the participants was 2.98±0.64. Using social media to seek sexual partners was associated with higher anticipated HIV stigma (Adjusted β=0.11, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.05 to 0.17, p=0.001). HIV self-testing (Adjusted β=–0.07, 95%CI: -0.13 to -0.01, p=0.02) and having disclosed one’s sexual orientation to a healthcare provider (Adjusted β=-0.16, 95%CI: -0.22 to -0.96, p<0.001) were associated with lower anticipated HIV stigma.

 Conclusion: Our data suggested that anticipated HIV stigma is still common among Chinese MSM not living with HIV. Tailored anti-HIV stigma campaigns on social media are especially needed, and promotion of HIVST may be a promising approach.

Socio-structural determinants of health

Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medical Cures for HIV: Rationale and Implications for HIV Cure ResearchGlobal Public Health. 2019; 14(1): 152-160. {abstract}

Traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine (TCAM) has been used by some people living with HIV (PLHIV) in an attempt to cure HIV. This article reviews the main factors influencing their decision to choose TCAM to cure HIV and discusses implications for HIV cure research. Those who decide to pursue traditional, complementary, and alternative medical cures may be influenced by the health system, cultural, and social dynamics, and their own individual beliefs and preferences. These same factors may impact participation in HIV cure research. People who search for traditional, complementary, and alternative medical cures may face special challenges as they are recruited, consented, and retained within HIV cure research studies. To address these potential challenges, we have suggested solutions focusing on culturally tailored communication and education, formative social science research, and community partnerships with key stakeholders. The social conditions that have promoted traditional, complementary and alternative medical cures will likely impact how PLHIV participate and experience HIV remission trials. Despite the potential challenges, it will be crucial to involve those who have previously sought out traditional cures for HIV in HIV cure research.

Driving force of condomless sex after online intervention among Chinese men who have sex with men. BMC Public Health. 19: 978. {abstract}

 Background: Condom use remains consistently low among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM). This study aims to identify factors associated with condom use after online video intervention.

Methods: This is a secondary data analysis of data collected from an online non-inferiority trial comparing the effectiveness of two condom use promotion video interventions among Chinese MSM. Participants from the two groups were combined since the effectiveness of two video interventions were shown to be non-inferior. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression were used to identify factors associated with condomless sex after the intervention during the follow-up interval.

Results: Overall, 1173 participants were recruited at baseline and 791 (67.4%) completed the three-month follow-up survey. 57.3% (453/791) of the participants reported condomless sex after intervention in the three-month follow-up interval. MSM who have had sex under the influence of alcohol in the last 3 months (Odds Ratio(OR) = 1.90; 95% CI: 1.22, 2.97; Adjusted OR(AOR) = 1.79; 95% CI: 1.13, 2.83) and ever have had sex tourism (OR = 2.75; 95% CI: 1.34, 5.63; AOR = 2.40; 95% CI: 1.15, 5.07) at baseline were more likely to have condomless sex after intervention in the three-month follow-up period. MSM who had a higher level of community engagement in sexual health (OR = 0.54; 95% CI: 0.35, 0.82; AOR = 0.49; 95% CI: 0.32, 0.75 with substantial engagement) and who viewed additional condom promotion videos during the follow-up period by themselves (OR = 0.67; 95% CI = 0.50, 0.89; AOR = 0.67; 95% CI: 0.50, 0.91). were less likely to have condomless sex during the follow-up period.

Conclusion: The intervention appeared to be effective among MSM who reported viewing additional condom promotion videos by themselves and more community engagement after the intervention. In MSM who reported risky sexual behaviors at baseline, the intervention appeared less effective. Tailored intervention videos that target particular subgroups, active in-person community engagement, and optimized intervention frequency should be considered in future sexual health interventions.

Transplantation or Rurality? Migration and HIV Risk among Chinese Men who have Sex with Men in the Urban Areas. Journal of International AIDS Society. 2018; 21(1): e25039.  {abstract}

 Introduction: Migration of men who have sex with men (MSM) from rural to urban areas is common across low‐ and middle‐income countries and is widely believed to contribute to elevated HIV risk among migrant MSM in urban areas. Little consensus exists on whether their risk is due to their transplantation or their being from resource‐constrained rural areas. This study seeks to clarify the relationship between migration and HIV risks by comparing differences in HIV‐related risky sexual behaviours and healthcare utilization across competing conceptualizations of migratory statuses.

Methods: In July 2016, MSM ≥16 years old currently residing in one of eight urban cities in China were recruited for an online cross‐sectional survey, which collected information on socio‐demographics, sexual behaviours, HIV care‐seeking behaviours, and healthcare utilization. Based on a question about residency status, each participant was classified as an urban local resident, urban transplant, or rural transplant. Multivariable multinomial logistic regression was used to examine the associations between risky behaviours and healthcare utilization among these three groups.

Results: Among 2007 MSM, the proportion of local, urban transplant and rural transplant were 32% (648/2007), 24% (478/2007), and 44% (881/2007), respectively. Compared with urban local resident MSM, urban transplant MSM were more likely to have ever tested for HIV (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 1.39, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.08 to 1.80). Compared with urban transplant MSM, rural transplant MSM were less likely to have utilized any governmental sexual health services in the past three months (aOR = 0.75, 95% CI: 0.60 to 0.93), ever tested for HIV (aOR = 0.77, 95% CI: 0.61 to 0.96), ever initiated antiretroviral therapy (ART) (aOR = 0.16, 95% CI: 0.05 to 0.52), and ever purchased sex (aOR = 0.57, 95% CI: 0.38 to 0.85). No other significant differences were found in sexual behaviours among three groups.

Conclusions: The widely used local/migrant categorization obscures important differences in HIV risk present between urban/rural subgroups among them. Previous studies of HIV risks in Chinese “migrant” may have failed to consider the role of structural factors such as discrimination or barriers to healthcare when interpreting their findings of higher HIV prevalence in this population. Low ART uptake among rural transplant MSM in this study is particularly concerning and underscore the need for HIV‐related interventions tailored for this group.

Receiving HIV Serostatus Disclosure from Partners Before Sex: Results from an Online Survey of Chinese Men Who Have Sex with Men and Transgender Individuals. AIDS & Behavior. 2018; 22(12): 3826-3835. {abstract}

HIV serostatus disclosure before sex can facilitate serosorting, condom use and potentially decrease the risk of HIV acquisition. However, few studies have evaluated HIV serostatus disclosure from partners before sex. We examined the rate and correlates of receiving HIV serostatus disclosure from regular and casual male partners before sex among an online sample of men who have sex with men (MSM) in China. An online cross-sectional study was conducted among MSM in eight Chinese cities in July 2016. Participants completed questions covering sociodemographic information, sexual behaviors, HIV testing (including HIV self-testing) history, self-reported HIV status, and post-test violence. In addition, participants were asked whether they received HIV serostatus disclosure from their most recent partners before sex. Overall, 2105 men completed the survey. Among them, 85.9% were never married, and 35.4% had high school or less education. A minority (20.6%, 346/1678; 17.8%, 287/1608) of men received HIV serostatus disclosure from their most recent regular and casual male partners, respectively. Multivariate analysis indicated that participants who ever self-tested for HIV were more likely to have received HIV status disclosure from regular [adjusted OR (aOR) = 1.92, 95% CI 1.50–2.44] and casual (aOR = 2.34, 95% CI 1.80–3.04) male partners compared to never self-tested participants. Compared to participants who had not received HIV status disclosure from regular partners, participants who received disclosure from regular male partners had higher likelihood in experiencing post-test violence (aOR = 5.18, 95% CI 1.53–17.58). Similar results were also found for receiving HIV serostatus disclosure from casual partners. This study showed that HIV serostatus disclosure from partners was uncommon among Chinese MSM. Interventions and further implementation research to facilitate safe disclosure are urgently needed for MSM.

Sex tourism among Chinese Men who have Sex with Men: A Cross-Sectional Observational Study. BMC Public Health. 2018; 18(1): 306. {abstract}

Background: Sex tourism among men who have sex with men (MSM) may exacerbate transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sex tourism is defined as purchasing sex with gifts or money outside of one’s hometown. Our objective was to characterize the frequency, socio-demographic characteristics, and sexual risk behaviors among Chinese MSM sex tourists.

Methods: An online, cross-sectional survey for high-risk MSM throughout China was conducted in November 2015 covering sociodemographic characteristics, sexual risk behaviors, and sex tourism. Univariate and multivariable logistic regressions were performed to identify correlates of sex tourism. The mean MSM HIV prevalence of sex tourism journey origins and destinations were compared.

Results: Of 1189 MSM who completed the survey, 62 (5%) men identified as sex tourists; among these sex tourists, twenty (32%) traveled primarily to purchase sex and the remainder purchased sex while traveling for another purpose. There was minimal socio-demographic and behavioral difference between the two groups. In multivariable analyses, adjusting for age and income, sex tourism was correlated with high-risk sexual behaviors, higher income (aOR 4.44, 95%CI 1.77–11.18) and living with HIV (aOR 2.79, 95%CI 1.03–7.55). Sex tourism was more often from locations with lower to higher MSM HIV prevalence (mean = 4.47, SD = 2.01 versus mean = 6.86, SD = 5.24).

Conclusion: MSM sex tourists were more likely to have risky sexual behaviors and travel to locations with a higher HIV prevalence. MSM sex tourists may be part of core groups that are disproportionately responsible for MSM HIV transmission. Enhanced surveillance and interventions tailored to MSM sex tourists should be considered.

Condom Use Social Norms and Self-efficacy with Different Kinds of Male Partners among Chinese Men who have Sex with Men: Results from an Online Survey. BMC Public Health. 2018; 18: 1175. {abstract}

Background: Social norms and self-efficacy play important roles in promoting consistent condom use among men who have sex with men (MSM). Few studies have investigated the association between social norms, self-efficacy and consistent condom use with different kinds of male partners among MSM. We conducted an online survey of MSM to evaluate this in China.

Method: A cross-sectional online survey was conducted in 2015. Participants completed a validated questionnaire covering socio-demographic information, consistent condom use, condom use social norms and self-efficacy. Eligible participants were 16 or older, born biologically as a male, engaged in anal sex with a man at least once during their lifetime, engaged in condomless anal or vaginal sex in the last three months. In this study, we further restricted to people who had sex with male partners in the last three months. Participants were classified into three groups: engaged in sex only with regular partners, engaged in sex only with casual partners and engaged in sex with both regular partners and casual partners.

Result: Participants were recruited from 32 provinces in China. Among 1057 participants, 451(42.7%), 217(20.5%), and 389(36.8%) engaged in sex with regular partners only, casual partners only and both types in the last three months, respectively. Men engaged in sex only with regular partners in the last three months had a higher condom use self-efficacy than with other two types of partners (P < 0.01). Both social norms (regular partners: adjusted OR:1.59, 95% CI: 0.97–2.60; casual partners: adjusted OR: 1.58, 95% CI: 1.19–2.09; both types: adjusted OR: 1.48, 95% CI: 1.13–1.95) and self-efficacy (regular partners: adjusted OR: 2.88, 95% CI: 1.59–5.22; casual partners: adjusted OR: 2.35, 95% CI: 1.69–3.26; both types: adjusted OR: 2.45, 95% CI: 1.81–3.32) were positively associated with consistent condom use. No interaction effect was detected between condom social norms and self-efficacy on consistent condom use among Chinese MSM (p > 0.05).

Conclusion:Both social norms and self-efficacy were positively correlated with consistent condom use with any types of partners among Chinese MSM. Tailored interventions that aimed to improve social norms and self-efficacy has the potential to improve overall condom use among Chinese MSM.

Community Engagement in Sexual Health and Uptake of HIV Testing and Syphilis Testing among MSM in China: A Cross-sectional Online SurveyJournal of the International AIDS Society. 2017; 20(1):21372. {abstract}

Introduction: HIV and syphilis testing rates remain low among men who have sex with men (MSM) in low‐ and middle‐income countries (LMICs). Community engagement has been increasingly used to promote HIV testing among key populations in high‐income countries, often in settings with stronger civil society. This study aimed to assess socio‐demographic, behavioural, and community engagement factors associated with HIV and syphilis testing among MSM in China.

Methods: MSM ≥16 years old who had condomless sex in the past three months were recruited nationwide to complete a cross‐sectional online survey in November 2015. Data were collected on socio‐demographics, sexual behaviours, HIV testing, syphilis testing, and community engagement in sexual health. We defined community engagement in sexual health using six items assessing awareness and advocacy of sexual health programmes. The underlying factor structure of a 6‐item community engagement scale was determined through exploratory factor analysis. Univariate and multivariable logistic regressions identified correlates of HIV and syphilis testing.

Results: 1189 MSM were recruited. 54% (647/1189) of men had ever tested for HIV and 30% (354/1189) had ever tested for syphilis. Factor analysis suggested three levels of community engagement (minimal, moderate, and substantial) and this model explained 79.5% of observed variance. A quarter (26%, 312/1189) reported none to minimal engagement, over one half (54%, 644/1189) reported moderate engagement, and a fifth (20%, 233/1189) reported substantial engagement. Multivariable logistic regression showed that MSM with greater community engagement in sexual health were more likely to have ever tested for HIV (substantial vs. no engagement: aOR 7.91, 95% CI 4.98–12.57) and for syphilis (substantial vs. no engagement: aOR 5.35, 95% CI 3.16–9.04).

Conclusions: HIV and syphilis testing are suboptimal among MSM in China. Community engagement may be useful for promoting testing in China and should be considered in intervention development and delivery. Further research is needed to better understand the role of LMIC community engagement in HIV interventions.

Disclosure of Sexual Orientation to Health Professionals in China: Results from an Online Cross-Sectional StudyJournal of the International AIDS Society. 2017; 20(1), 21416. {abstract}

Background: Many men who have sex with men (MSM) in China are “in the closet.” The low rate of disclosure may impact sexual behaviours, testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and diseases transmission. This study examines factors associated with overall sexual orientation disclosure and disclosure to healthcare professionals.

Methods: A nationwide cross‐sectional online survey was conducted from September 2014 to October 2014 in China. Participants completed questions covering socio‐demographic information, sexual behaviours, HIV/STI testing history, and self‐reported HIV status. We defined healthcare professional disclosure as disclosing to a doctor or other medical provider.

Results: A total of 1819 men started the survey and 1424 (78.3%) completed it. Among the 1424 participants, 62.2% (886/1424) reported overall disclosure, and 16.3% (232/1424) disclosed to healthcare professionals. In multivariate analyses, the odds of sexual orientation disclosure were 56% higher among MSM who used smartphone‐based, sex‐seeking applications [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 1.56, 95% CI: 1.25–2.95], but were lower among MSM reporting sex while drunk or recreational drug use. The odds of disclosure to a healthcare professional were greater among MSM who had ever tested for HIV or STIs (aOR = 3.36, 95% CI: 2.50–4.51 for HIV, and aOR = 4.92, 95% CI: 3.47–6.96 for STIs, respectively) or self‐reported as living with HIV (aOR = 1.59, 95% CI: 0.93–2.72).

Conclusion: Over 80% of MSM had not disclosed their sexual orientation to health professionals. This low level of disclosure likely represents a major obstacle to serving the unique needs of MSM in clinical settings. Further research and interventions to facilitate MSM sexual orientation disclosure, especially to health professionals, are urgently needed.

Physician Perceptions of HIV Cure in China: A Mixed Methods Review and Implications for HIV Cure ResearchAsian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease. 2015; 5(9), 687-690. {abstract}

There are over 100 clinical trials worldwide focused on developing an HIV cure. Research participants will assume substantial individual risks while receiving little or no individual benefit. Physicians will have important dual roles of leading HIV cure research studies and guiding patient expectations. Many low and middle-income nations have started HIV cure trials, including China. The goal of this study was to better understand physician attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of HIV cure research within the context of China. We conducted a quantitative and qualitative evidence review of published literature on physician perceptions of HIV cure in China. Quantitative survey data revealed that physicians rarely believed HIV was curable, but this perception may be more common compared to other countries. Qualitative data showed that inconsistent terminology used among physicians may contribute to the perception of HIV as curable. The belief that HIV is curable among some physicians in China may be related to the influence of traditional Chinese medicine beliefs. Rather than seeking elimination of pathogens, traditional Chinese medicine aims to achieve harmony between organs and a vital life force. In this context, HIV infection can be seen as a temporary state of imbalance rather than an irreversible change. There is a wide range of physician perceptions about HIV cure in China. Conflicting information about HIV cure from physicians and other sources could thwart the progress of HIV cure research. Enhancing patient-physician communication about ongoing HIV cure research trials will be important for developing an HIV cure.

Social Media

Recalling, Sharing and Participating in a Social Media Intervention Promoting HIV Testing: A Longitudinal Analysis of HIV Testing Among MSM in China. AIDS & Behavior. 2019; 23(5): 1240-1249.  {abstract}

Social media interventions may enhance HIV services among key populations, including men who have sex with men (MSM). This longitudinal analysis examined the effect of recalling, sharing, and participating in different components of a social media intervention on HIV testing among MSM. The social media intervention included six images/texts and information about an online local community contest to promote testing. Of the 1033 men, they recalled a mean of 2.7 out of six images and shared an average of one image online. 34.5% of men recalled information on the online local community contest and engaged in a mean of 1.3 contest. Recalling images/texts (aOR = 1.13, 95% CI 1.02-1.25) and recalling a local contest (aOR = 1.59, 95% CI 1.13-1.24) were associated with facility-based HIV testing. This study has implications for the development and evaluation of social media interventions to promote HIV testing.

Leading by Example: Online Sexual Health Influencers among Men who Have Sex with Men Have Higher HIV and Syphilis Testing Rates in China. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2019; 21(1): e10171. {abstract}

Background: The spread of healthy behaviors through social networks may be accelerated by influential individuals. Previous studies have used lay health influencers to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among internet-using men who have sex with men (MSM). However, there is a lack of understanding of the characteristics of this key subset of MSM.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine socio-demographic characteristics, HIV/syphilis testing, and sexual behaviors of online MSM sexual health influencers (SHIs) in China, defined as individuals with relatively stronger influence on spreading HIV/STI information online.

Methods: An online survey of MSM was conducted in August 2017, as a final follow-up of a randomized controlled trial promoting HIV testing in eight Chinese cities. Men were recruited through a gay social networking mobile phone application and were included if they were born biologically male, aged 16 years and above, ever had sex with another man, and HIV negative or with unknown HIV status. Information regarding socio-demographic characteristics, sexual behaviors and HIV/syphilis testing was obtained. We also assessed men’s online sexual health influence using a standardized 6-item opinion leadership scale focused on HIV/STI information. Influencers were defined as those whose mean score ranked within the top 13% (a higher score means greater influence). We used multivariable linear/logistic regression models to measure association between being an influencer and HIV/syphilis testing and other related outcomes, controlling for intervention trial effects, age, education, income and marital status.

Results: Overall, 1031 men completed the survey. Most men were younger than 30 years old (819, 79.5%), and had at least college education (667, 64.7%). Influencers were more likely to get tested for HIV (55.3% vs 37.5%, p<0.001) and syphilis (26.5% vs 15.2%, p=0.001) in the last three months compared to non-influencers. There were no significant differences in condomless sex with male partners (19.7% vs 22.6%, p=0.46), mean number of male sex partners (1.32 vs 1.11, p=0.16) in the last three months, and mainly meeting male sex partners online in the last 12 months (73.5% vs 74.4%, p=0.82) between influencers and non-influencers. Regression analyses showed that influencers had higher odds of HIV testing (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.16, 95% CI 1.48, 3.17) and syphilis testing (AOR=1.99, 95% CI 1.28, 3.10) in the last three months.

Conclusions: We identified online sexual health influencers who might be more likely to help promote healthy HIV testing behaviors through MSM populations. Leveraging existing influencers may help improve HIV/syphilis testing among their networks.  

Social Media Engagement and HIV Testing Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in China. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2017; 19(7), e251. {abstract}

Background: Many interventions find that social media engagement with health promotion materials can translate into behavioral changes. However, only a few studies have examined the ways in which specific actions on various social media platforms are correlated with health behaviors.

Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the association between social media use and HIV testing behaviors among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM).

Methods: In July 2016, a Web-based survey was conducted to recruit MSM in 8 Chinese cities through Blued (Blue City Holdings Ltd.), the world’s largest gay mobile phone app. Data on sociodemographic variables, social media use platforms and behaviors, sexual behaviors, and HIV testing histories were collected. HIV testing–related social media use was defined as having ever engaged with HIV testing content on social media, which was further divided into observing (ie, receiving), endorsing (eg, liking and sharing), and contributing (eg, posting or commenting on HIV testing materials). Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted to determine the best division of HIV testing–related social media use. Univariate and multivariable logistic regressions were used to examine the association between HIV testing–related social media use and HIV testing behaviors.

Results: A total of 2105 individuals participated in the survey. Among them, 46.75% (984) were under the age of 24 years, 35.43% (746) had high school education or less, and 47.74% (587) had condomless sex in the last 3 months. More than half of the respondents (58.14%, 1224/2105) reported HIV testing–related social media use. Additionally, HIV testing–related social media use, especially on multifunctional platforms such as WeChat, was found to be associated with recent HIV testing (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.32, 95% CI 1.66-3.24). Contributing on social media was correlated with recent HIV testing (aOR 2.10, 95% CI 1.40-3.16), but neither observing (aOR 0.66, 95% CI 0.38-1.15) nor endorsing (aOR 1.29, 95% CI 0.88-1.90) were correlated.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that social media use, particularly on multifunctional platforms such as WeChat and with contributing behaviors, is correlated with HIV testing among MSM in China. Campaigns that promote active participant contribution on social media beyond passive observation and endorsement of promotional materials are needed. This study has implications for the design and implementation of social media interventions to promote HIV testing.

Faster and Riskier? Online Context of Sex Seeking Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in ChinaSexually Transmitted Diseases. 2017; 44(4), 239-244. {abstract}

Background: Many men who have sex with men (MSM) seek sex partners online, creating barriers and opportunities for human immunodeficiency virus prevention. The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of MSM and the risks associated with seeking sex through websites, gay apps, and both platforms in China.

Methods: Data were collected through a cross-sectional online survey from September through October 2014 from 3 large gay Web portals. Sociodemographic information, sexual behaviors, and online sex seeking behaviors were measured. Multinomial logistic regression was performed to compare sexual risk behaviors among website users, gay app users, and men who used both platforms.

Results: Of the 1201 participants, 377 (31.4%) were website-only users, 487 (40.5%) were gay app-only users, and 337 (28.0%) were men who used both platforms. These 3 MSM subgroups have distinct sociodemographic characteristics. Overall, 57.6% of participants reported having engaged in condomless anal sex with their last male partner in the past 6 months, but there was no significant difference in condomless sex between the 3 groups. Men who used both platforms viewed more sexually transmitted disease-related messages than website-only users (adjusted odds ratio, 2.19; 95% confidence interval, 1.57–3.05).

Conclusions: Condom usage behaviors were unaffected by the medium through which sexual partners were found. However, the high frequency of condomless sex suggests that websites and gay apps are both risk environments. This study suggests using multiple platforms for human immunodeficiency virus/sexually transmitted disease social media interventions may be useful.

Will Gay Sex-seeking Mobile Phone Applications Facilitate Group Sex?: A Cross-Sectional Online Survey among Men who have Sex with Men in ChinaPloS one. 2016: 11(11), e0167238. {abstract}

Introduction: China is amidst a sexual revolution, with changing sexual practices and behaviors. Sex–seeking mobile phone applications (gay apps) that allow multiple people to meet up quickly may facilitate group sex. This study was therefore undertaken to evaluate group sex among Chinese MSM and to better understand factors associated with group sex.

Methods: An online survey was conducted from September-October 2014, collecting data on socio-demographics, sexual behaviors, use of gay apps and occurrence of group sex among Chinese MSM. Univariate and multivariable logistic regressions were used to compare group sex and non-group sex participants.

Results: Of the 1,424 MSM, the majority were under 30 years old (77.5%), unmarried (83.9%), and were gay apps users (57.9%). Overall, 141 (9.9%) participants engaged in group sex in the last 12 months. Multivariate analyses showed that men living with HIV, engaged in condomless anal intercourse with men, and used gay apps were more likely to engage in group sex, with adjusted ORs of 3.74 (95% CI 1.92–7.28), 2.88 (95% CI 2.00–4.16) and 1.46 (95% CI: 1.00–2.13), respectively. Among gay app users, the likelihood of group sex increases with the number of sex partners and the number of sex acts with partners met through a gay app.

Conclusions: Chinese MSM who engage in group sex are also more likely to engage in other risky sexual behaviors, and gay app use may facilitate group sex. Further research is needed among MSM who engage in group sex in order to target interventions and surveillance. 

Innovating health intervention

Reimagining Health Communication: A Non-Inferiority Randomized Controlled Trial of Crowdsourced Intervention in ChinaSexually Transimitted Diseases. 2019; 46(3): 172-178.  {abstract}

Background Crowdsourcing, the process of shifting individual tasks to a large group, may be useful for health communication, making it more people-centered. We aimed to evaluate whether a crowdsourced video is noninferior to a social marketing video in promoting condom use.

Methods Men who have sex with men (≥16 years old, had condomless sex within 3 months) were recruited and randomly assigned to watch 1 of the 2 videos in 2015. The crowdsourced video was developed through an open contest, and the social marketing video was designed by using social marketing principles. Participants completed a baseline survey and follow-up surveys at 3 weeks and 3 months postintervention. The outcome was compared with a noninferiority margin of +10%.

Results Among the 1173 participants, 907 (77%) and 791 (67%) completed the 3-week and 3-month follow-ups. At 3 weeks, condomless sex was reported by 146 (33.6%) of 434 participants and 153 (32.3%) 473 participants in the crowdsourced and social marketing arms, respectively. The crowdsourced intervention achieved noninferiority (estimated difference, +1.3%; 95% confidence interval, −4.8% to 7.4%). At 3 months, 196 (52.1%) of 376 individuals and 206 (49.6%) of 415 individuals reported condomless sex in the crowdsourced and social-marketing arms (estimated difference: +2.5%, 95% confidence interval, −4.5 to 9.5%). The 2 arms also had similar human immunodeficiency virus testing rates and other condom-related secondary outcomes.

Conclusions Our study demonstrates that crowdsourced message is noninferior to a social marketing intervention in promoting condom use among Chinese men who have sex with men. Crowdsourcing contests could have a wider reach than other approaches and create more people-centered intervention tools for human immunodeficiency virus control.

Crowdsourcing to Expand HIV Testing Services: A Closed Cohort Stepped Wedge Cluster Randomized Controlled TrialPLoS Medicine. 2019; 15(8): e1002645.  {abstract}

Background: HIV testing rates are suboptimal among at-risk men. Crowdsourcing may be a useful tool for designing innovative, community-based HIV testing strategies to increase HIV testing. The purpose of this study was to use a stepped wedge cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effect of a crowdsourced HIV intervention on HIV testing uptake among men who have sex with men (MSM) in eight Chinese cities.

Methods and findings: An HIV testing intervention was developed through a national image contest, a regional strategy designathon, and local message contests. The final intervention included a multimedia HIV testing campaign, an online HIV testing service, and local testing promotion campaigns tailored for MSM. This intervention was evaluated using a closed cohort stepped wedge cluster RCT in eight Chinese cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Jiangmen in Guangdong province; Jinan, Qingdao, Yantai, and Jining in Shandong province) from August 2016 to August 2017. MSM were recruited through Blued, a social networking mobile application for MSM, from July 29 to August 21 of 2016. The primary outcome was self-reported HIV testing in the past 3 months. Secondary outcomes included HIV self-testing, facility-based HIV testing, condom use, and syphilis testing. Generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) were used to analyze primary and secondary outcomes. We enrolled a total of 1,381 MSM. Most were ≤30 years old (82%), unmarried (86%), and had a college degree or higher (65%). The proportion of individuals receiving an HIV test during the intervention periods within a city was 8.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.2–15.5) greater than during the control periods. In addition, the intention-to-treat analysis showed a higher probability of receiving an HIV test during the intervention periods as compared to the control periods (estimated risk ratio [RR] = 1.43, 95% CI 1.19–1.73). The intervention also increased HIV self-testing (RR = 1.89, 95% CI 1.50–2.38). There was no effect on facility-based HIV testing (RR = 1.00, 95% CI 0.79–1.26), condom use (RR = 1.00, 95% CI 0.86–1.17), or syphilis testing (RR = 0.92, 95% CI 0.70–1.21). A total of 48.6% (593/1,219) of participants reported that they received HIV self-testing. Among men who received two HIV tests, 32 individuals seroconverted during the 1-year study period. Study limitations include the use of self-reported HIV testing data among a subset of men and non-completion of the final survey by 23% of participants. Our study population was a young online group in urban China and the relevance of our findings to other populations will require further investigation.

Conclusions: In this setting, crowdsourcing was effective for developing and strengthening community-based HIV testing services for MSM. Crowdsourced interventions may be an important tool for the scale-up of HIV testing services among MSM in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). 

Out of the Closet, Into the Clinic: Opportunities for Expanding MSM-Competent Services in ChinaSexual Transmitted Diseases.2018; 45(8): 527–533{abstract}

Background: Despite the high human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) burden among men who have sex with men (MSM), there is little research on health services provided to MSM in China and other low- and middle-income countries. Discrimination and inadequate services may discourage MSM from seeking health care services. This study examined essential services provided to MSM and health care discrimination among MSM in China.

Method: A nationwide cross-sectional online survey was conducted among MSM who saw a physician in the last 24 months in China. The survey included items on sociodemographic information, HIV testing, experiences from the last physician encounter, and history of perceived health care discrimination. We defined MSM-competent physicians as physicians who asked their patient about having sex with other men, asked about anal sex, and either asked about or recommended HIV testing at the most recent visit.

Finding: Among the 503 participants, 35.0% (176/503) saw an MSM-competent physician. In multivariate analyses, respondents who saw an MSM-competent physician were more likely to be younger (adjusted odds ratio (AOR), 0.87; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.81–0.94), have a primary care physician (AOR, 3.24; 95% CI, 1.85–5.67), and be living with HIV (AOR, 2.01; 95% CI, 1.13–3.56). 61.2% (308/503) of MSM had ever experienced health care discrimination.

Conclusion: Our data suggest that there is variability in the extent to which physicians are meeting the needs of MSM in China. There is an urgent need to evaluate and expand MSM-competent services in China.

Crowdsourcing Designathon: A New Model for Multisectoral CollaborationBMJ Innovations.2018; 4(2): 46-50.

Crowdsourcing to promote HIV testing among MSM in China: Study Protocol for a Stepped Wedge Randomized Controlled TrialTrials. 2017;18: 447. {abstract}

Background: HIV testing for marginalized populations is critical to controlling the HIV epidemic. However, the HIV testing rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) in China remains low. Crowdsourcing, the process of shifting individual tasks to a group, has been increasingly adopted in public health programs and may be a useful tool for spurring innovation in HIV testing campaigns. We designed a multi-site study to develop a crowdsourced HIV test promotion campaign and evaluate its effectiveness against conventional campaigns among MSM in China.

Methods: This study will use an adaptation of the stepped wedge, randomized controlled trial design. A total of eight major metropolitan cities in China will be randomized to sequentially initiate interventions at 3-month intervals. The intervention uses crowdsourcing at multiple steps to sustain crowd contribution. Approximately 1280 MSM, who are 16 years of age or over, live in the intervention city, have not been tested for HIV in the past 3 months, and are not living with HIV, will be recruited. Recruitment will take place through banner advertisements on a large gay dating app along with other social media platforms. Participants will complete one follow-up survey every 3 months for 12 months to evaluate their HIV testing uptake in the past 3 months and secondary outcomes including syphilis testing, sex without condoms, community engagement, testing stigma, and other related outcomes.

Discussion: MSM HIV testing rates remain poor in China. Innovative methods to promote HIV testing are urgently needed. With a large-scale, stepped wedge, randomized controlled trial our study can improve understanding of crowdsourcing’s long-term effectiveness in public health campaigns, expand HIV testing coverage among a key population, and inform intervention design in related public health fields. 

Comparing the Effectiveness of a Crowdsourced Video and a Social Marketing Video in Promoting Condom Use among Chinese Men who have Sex with Men: A Study ProtocolBMJ Open. 2016; 6(10), e010755. {abstract}

Introduction: Crowdsourcing has been used to spur innovation and increase community engagement in public health programmes. Crowdsourcing is the process of giving individual tasks to a large group, often involving open contests and enabled through multisectoral partnerships. Here we describe one crowdsourced video intervention in which a video promoting condom use is produced through an open contest. The aim of this study is to determine whether a crowdsourced intervention is as effective as a social marketing intervention in promoting condom use among high-risk men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender male-to-female (TG) in China.

Method: We evaluate videos developed by crowdsourcing and social marketing. The crowdsourcing contest involved an open call for videos. Entries were judged on capacity to promote condom use, to be shareable or ‘go viral’ and to give value to the individual. 1170 participants will be recruited for the randomised controlled trial. Participants need to be MSM age 16 and over who have had condomless anal sex in the last 3 months. Recruitment will be through an online banner ad on a popular MSM web page and other social media platforms. After completing an initial survey, participants will be randomly assigned to view either the social marketing video or the crowdsourcing video. Follow-up surveys will be completed at 3 weeks and 3 months after initial intervention to evaluate condomless sex and related secondary outcomes. Secondary outcomes include condom social norms, condom negotiation, condom self-efficacy, HIV/syphilis testing, frequency of sex acts and incremental cost. 

HIV Testing

MSM Behavior Disclosure Networks and HIV Testing: An Egocentric Network Analysis among MSM in China. AIDS & Behavior. 2019; 23(5):1368-1374.  {abstract}

 Men who have sex with men (MSM) disclose same-sex behaviors with others, creating disclosure networks. This study examined the characteristics of disclosure networks that are associated with HIV testing among MSM in China through an online nationwide survey. Name-generator questions were used to ask each participant ("ego") to nominate up to five social network members ("alters") with whom he had disclosed same-sex behaviors. Among the 806 men, the average disclosure network size was 4.05. MSM who reported larger disclosure networks were more likely to have been tested for HIV (aOR 1.21, 95% CI 1.08-1.34). The most common disclosure network alters were friends (45.1%), followed by sex partners (18.7%) and healthcare professionals (2.5%). Men who disclosed to healthcare professionals were more likely to test for HIV compared to men who disclosed to family members (aOR 5.43, 95% CI 2.11-14.04). Our findings can inform disclosure network-based interventions to promote MSM HIV testing.

No Place Like Home? Disentangling Preferences for HIV Testing Locations and Services Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in ChinaAIDS & Behavior. 2019; 23(4): 847-859.  {abstract}

In China, some health departments and gay community-based organizations have begun to offer home-based HIV testing kits in order to augment test uptake among men who have sex with men (MSM). However, HIV test preferences and motivations for home-testing among MSM in China are not well understood. The HIV testing preferences of 803 MSM throughout China were evaluated using single-item assessment and a discrete choice experiment (DCE). In both the single-item assessment and DCE, participants expressed strong preference for free and anonymous testing by health professionals. Both approaches also indicated that naïve testers most prefer home testing. However, among previous testers, the single-item assessment indicated that “home” was the most preferred testing location (vs. hospital or clinic), while the DCE indicated that “home” was the least preferred testing location after controlling for anonymity. HIV home-testing may have limited appeal to previously tested Chinese MSM if anonymity is not maintained.

Enhancing Public Health Messaging: Discrete Choice Experiment Evidence on the Design of HIV Testing Messages in China. Medical Decision Making. Online first. {abstract}

Introduction: While a growing literature documents the effectiveness of public health messaging on social media, our understanding of the factors that encourage individuals to engage with and share messages is limited. In the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among men who have sex with men (MSM) in China, rising incidence and low testing rates despite decades of interventions suggest the need for effective, targeted messaging to reach underserved populations. Social media platforms and sex-seeking apps present a promising avenue, as web-based strategies can take advantage of existing trust within dense social networks.

Methods: We conducted an online discrete-choice experiment in January 2017 with MSM from across China. Participants were presented with 6 choice tasks, each composed of 2 messages about HIV testing, and were asked in which scenario they were more likely to share the content. Participants were given information about the source of the HIV testing message, the social media sharing platform, and the recipients with whom they would share the message. They were given the option of sharing 1 message or neither. Multinomial and mixed logit models were used to model preferences within 4 subgroups.

Results: In total, 885 MSM joined the survey, completing 4387 choice tasks. The most important attribute for 3 of the 4 subgroups was social media sharing platform. Men were more willing to share messages on sex-seeking mobile applications and less willing to share materials on generic (non-MSM) social media platforms. We found that men with more active online presences were less willing to share HIV testing messages on generic social media platforms.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that sex-seeking platforms represent a targeted, efficient method of actively engaging MSM in public health interventions.

Coercion And HIV Self-Testing In Men Who Have Sex With Men: Implementation Data From A Cross-Sectional Survey In ChinaJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 2018; 77(2), pp.e22-e25.

Pressured HIV Testing in the Name of Love: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Pressured HIV Testing among Men who have Sex with Men in China. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 2018; 21(3), e25098. {abstract}

Introduction: HIV testing has rapidly expanded into diverse, decentralized settings. While increasing accessibility to HIV testing is beneficial, it may lead to unintended consequences such as being pressured to test. We examined the frequency, correlates and contexts of pressured HIV testing among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM) using mixed methods.

Methods: We conducted an online survey of MSM (N = 1044) in May 2017. Pressured HIV testing was defined as being forced to test for HIV. We conducted logistic regression analysis to determine the associations between pressured HIV testing and socio‐demographic and sexual behavioural factors. Follow‐up interviews (n = 17) were conducted with men who reported pressured testing and we analysed qualitative data using a thematic analysis approach.

Results: Ninety‐six men (9.2%) reported experiencing pressure to test for HIV. Regular male sex partners were the most common source of pressure (61%, 59/96), and the most common form of pressure was a threat to end a relationship with the one who was being pressured (39%, 37/96). We found a higher risk of pressured testing in men who had only used HIV self‐testing compared to men who had never self‐tested (AOR 2.39 (95%CI: 1.38 to 4.14)). However, this relationship was only significant among men with low education (AOR 5.88 (95% CI: 1.92 to 17.99)) and not among men with high education (AOR 1.62 (95% CI: 0.85 to 3.10)). After pressured testing, about half of men subsequently tested for HIV (55%, 53/96) without pressure – none reported being diagnosed with HIV. Consistent with this finding, qualitative data suggest that perceptions of pressure existed on a continuum and depended on the relationship status of the one who pressured them. Although being pressured to test was accompanied by negative feelings, men who were pressured into testing often changed their attitude towards HIV testing, testing behaviours, sexual behaviours and relationship with the one who pressured them to test.

Conclusion: Pressured HIV testing was reported among Chinese MSM, especially from men with low education levels and men who received HIV self‐testing. However, in some circumstances, pressure to test helped MSM in several ways, challenging our understanding of the role of agency in the setting of HIV testing. 

The Interaction between HIV Testing Social Norms and Self-efficacy on HIV Testing among Chinese Men who Have Sex with Men: Results from an Online Cross-Sectional Study. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2018; 18(1): 541. {abstract}

BACKGROUND: Increasing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing is critical for HIV control. This study aimed to evaluate the interaction between social norms and self-efficacy on HIV testing among Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM).

METHODS: We conducted an online survey in eight Chinese cities in Shandong and Guangdong Provinces in July 2016. We included participants who were born as a male, at least 16 years old, currently living in one of the designated cities, and had ever engaged in anal sex with a man. We collected information regarding socio-demographics, high-risk behaviors, and history of HIV and other STI testing. We coded sensitivity to social norms using six items asking participants about their perceived social norm regarding HIV testing. We coded HIV testing self-efficacy using a separate six-item scale. We interpreted higher mean scores as higher sensitivity to social norms and higher self-efficacy, respectively. We conducted logistic regressions to evaluate the interaction between self-efficacy and social norms on HIV testing.

RESULTS: A total of 2105 men completed the survey. The mean age of the participants was 25.97 ± 6.42 years. Over four-fifths (85.9%) of participants were unmarried, 22.7% were students, and 64.6% at least had a college degree. 62.5 and 32.6% of participants ever and tested HIV in the last three months, respectively. With respect to uptake of HIV testing in the last three months, the adjusted odds ratio was 1.01(95% CI: 0.96-1.06) for higher sensitivity to social norms and 1.09 (95% CI: 1.05-1.14) for higher self-efficacy, with an interaction effect of 1.02 (95% CI: 1.01-1.03), respectively. With respect to uptake of lifetime HIV testing, the adjusted odds ratio was 1.03(95% CI: 0.99-1.07) for higher sensitivity to social norms and 1.15 (95% CI: 1.11-1.19) for higher self-efficacy, with an interaction effect of 1.02 (95% CI: 1.01-1.04), respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Our survey demonstrated that there is a significant association between the uptake of HIV testing with sensitivity to the social norm, higher self-efficacy, as well as the interaction between them. Tailored studies for improving HIV testing among MSM in China can combine these two interventions together. 

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