HIV epidemic in the Philippines at the hands of . . . dating apps?

Caroline Hendrix, Contributing Writer

Have you ever had a cumbersome first encounter with a stranger? Maybe you stuttered over your words, accidentally insulted them or maybe you even went to shake their right hand with your left. Though embarrassing, accidents happen and, for many, dating apps have become a saving grace.

You have time to craft a thoughtful, often witty message without the intimidation of face-to-face interaction. Dating apps have not only made it easier for the socially awkward, but they have created a platform for people looking for both long-lasting romances and casual hookups, to communicate regardless of time or distance restraints. But dating apps are also the alleged cause of some major drawbacks. In the Philippines, for instance, the rise of dating applications has coincided with a meteoric rise in cases of AIDS. Does this correlation equal causation? If so, how should we respond?

According to UNAIDS, approximately 67,395 people in the Philippines have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, while over 10,000 more are estimated to be living with the infection undiagnosed. The reason why this many people have gone undiagnosed can be attributed to a lack of HIV testing in the archipelago, although this cannot be the only cause; HIV testing is readily available for those that pursue it, though many do not voluntarily get tested. There exists in the Philippines a social climate that has made many scared to be open about their sexuality, of the use of contraceptives and of getting tested for sexually transmitted infections. In recent years, young adults in the Philippines have gained easy and cheap access to phones and the internet, according to the Wall Street Journal. In time they are introduced to dating apps, where social norms and judgment can be bypassed and casual relationships can be established discreetly. By making it easier to connect people, these apps have made sexual encounters more prevalent and increased the risk of contracting HIV.

It is imperative that dating companies not only take preventative action against HIV but also respond to the already prevalent HIV epidemic that is linked to casual hookups set up by such apps. Some apps like Grindr have done their part by creating an optional section on every user’s profile where they can share their HIV status. Being open about one’s status will prevent the spread of HIV for those who have been tested. But what about those who have not been tested? According to the Wall Street Journal, Grindr has been running advertisements on their app which actively promote HIV testing. It is imperative that more dating app users in the Philippines receive HIV testing frequently – and are open about their status to sexual partners they meet online – so as to decrease the risk of contracting HIV.

How should the University’s student life change with this knowledge? Practicing safe sex with the use of contraceptives, along with getting tested for sexually transmitted infections seem like the most accessible preventative measures for University students to take. Bucknell Student Health already hosts frequent STI/STD testings that are fast to administer and free of charge. For more specific details and testing dates, please see the Bucknell Student Health Blog on the University website. Students should take advantage of these free tests and encourage their friends to do the same.

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