Just like many previous Thai New Year holiday, known by the locals as Songkran, Bangkok is flocked with international and domestic tourists wanting to take part in the world’s largest water fight – an embellishment of holy water splashing Buddhist culture of the Kingdom.
Among these visitors are a large number of gay men, and many of them came with a ticket to enter the 11th installment of Asia’s largest gay circuit party. gCircuit SK11, as the party is named, is proven to get bigger and bigger every year with the increasing number of tickets sold and expansion of the venue size from the previous year.
TestBKK’s outreach at this year’s gCircuit also expanded from its preceding year. The pop-up clinic for free HIV and STI testing on the venue was equipped with three testing/counselling booths supported by one of TestBKK’s clinic partners Silom Pulse Clinic. In addition to regular pre- and post-testing counselling, the doctors also gave a PrEP counselling for those who were at higher risk of infection. gCircuit party run for three nights in a row, and by the end of the last night, a number of 112 testing uptakes were recorded.
A total of 12,000 packs of condoms and lube were disseminated on the party that’s each night filled by at least 4,000 gay men from all over the world dressed in Safari outfit, superhero cap, or tattoo-inspired ensemble – the theme of each evening.
This year’s TestBKK booth also visually unveiled its TestXXX partners in other cities: TestSGN (Ho Chi Minh City) and TestMNL (Manila).
“I’ve been following TestBKK since I came (to Bangkok) last year and heard about (their GAYOK Bangkok) webseries. I hope that a similar (HIV testing) campaign will appear in my home country too,” said one the circuiters who flew from Hong Kong to indulge in the party’s fête.
Unbeknownst to him, TestXXX is indeed spreading its wing to Hong Kong – and a city of Yogyakarta in Indonesia. Both cities suffer from a high HIV prevalence among gay men. The new TestXXX campaigns in the two cities are expected to launch in August this year.
Outside of gCircuit’s shimmering dancefloor, TestBKK also ensured that some of its clinic partners were still open during the long holiday period, safeguarding the availability of sexual health services for a large number of gay men in town. A series of ads promoting the availability of free testing and where to get PEP and PrEP were broadcasted via multiple online touchpoints including Facebook, Google AdWords and gay dating app, as well as through a billboard in the city’s most illustrious gay street. The traffic to the campaign website during Songkran holiday saw a five-fold increase in comparison to the preceding week, with an average of 2,500 pageviews per day.
Young people aged under 25 comprise over 40% of new HIV infections worldwide. In many Asian urban cities, the infection rate among gay men is alarmingly high yet the coverage of HIV testing among them is low. In Thailand, for example, where one out of four gay men is living with HIV, the testing coverage only reaches one-third of them.
Behavioural and epidemiological data on young gay men, in retrospect, are obsolete, if any, or limited. APCOM’s new project PULSE aspires to address this problem by working with research institutes and national community partners to conduct the survey on young gay men in Thailand, along with other Greater Mekong countries such as Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. The result of this research will no doubt help to shape TestBKK’s forthcoming campaigning strategy.