China study indicates bias against men who have sex with men spurs migration, potential spread of HIV, stalls services, responses

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Study highlights role of dating website in filling gaps

The quest is for anonymity, but the result is closer to invisibililty. While the numbers of men who have sex with men remain a guess in China, a country that only in the last 20 years decriminalized same-sex intimacy, and only in the last decade and a half  officially stopped pathologizing gay sex, a study found that at least 34 percent of those using what is likely largest gay dating website there left their rural homes for areas of the country where education levels were higher,  and stayed away.

In hopes of escaping stigma, and gaining less hindered access to health services, an article on the study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases says, most men in the data examined moved to coastal cities. In the process, the article says they left areas where HIV prevalence was high, and arrived in areas of lower prevalence. And, not registered for health services in the cities they traveled to, they could not access routine care, or that provided by HIV programs. In turn, the migration of men in China who have sex with men further obscures their numbers, and complicates accurate estimates of service needs for a mobile, and uncounted population.

The study Hidden and Mobile: A Web-based Study of Migration Patterns of Men Who Have Sex with Men in China used data that had been stripped of personally identifying information from, a site with more than 3 million registered users. Using data from more than 800,000 people who used the site 2008 to 2012, and defining “migrant” as someone who had been away from his registered home for six of the last 12 months, researchers found the percent of site users who left their communities of origin ranged from more than 35 percent in 2008 to nearly 33 percent in 2010.

The study, a project of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Global AIDS Program and China’s National Center for AIDS /STD Control and Prevention, offers information about the potential spread of China’s HIV epidemic, as well as a shifting demographic’s demand for services. It also, authors note, highlights the potential for online services to fill gaps in data that would otherwise go unnoted. The current issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases also includes a study showing the potential for internet crowdsourcing to lead to more effective HIV testing campaigns in China.

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