Just in time for World AIDS Day, a new study on teenagers in Asia has found smartphone dating apps complicit in the spread of HIV. Because the apps increase the opportunity for casual sex, researchers say, their growing use is a major factor in what is being dubbed a new HIV epidemic.
For example, in the Philippines alone, HIV infection rates among teenagers have reportedly doubled in four years, while in Bangkok, young gay men have a one-in-three chance of being infected.
“With the rise of these apps, the probability and risk of infection will increase multifold because it makes it so much easier for [young gay men] to date other guys and hook up for sex,” Wing-Sie Cheng, HIV adviser for UNICEF in east Asia and the Pacific, told The Guardian.
While worldwide, HIV infection rates are decreasing generally, UNICEF found that infections among people aged 10-19 have increased in Asia and the Pacific region, home to more than half of the world’s adolescents.
Officially, there are at least 220,000 infected preteens and teens in the region, while the actual number is likely much higher, according to UNICEF.
Also, the U.N. believes doctors in that part of the world are treating fewer than half of those adolescents. And there has been a steady increase year after year in the number of AIDS-related deaths.
“We need to work better with mobile app providers to share information about HIV and protect the health of adolescents,” Cheng told The Guardian.
But at least in the U.S., mobile apps Tinder and Grindr have bristled at such connections, such as the one made on billboards that went up in Los Angeles in September. The ads from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation suggested the apps were linked to the spread of STDs and offered free testing. In response, Grindr removed all of AHF’s ads and Tinder called its lawyers, who sent the group a cease and desist letter.