Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.
MSM (men who have sex with men) are mostly hidden. China CDC is incapable of finding them without the help of gay community groups. Yet, gay CBOs are also powerless beyond visiting public venues like gay bars and saunas. Another trait of MSM is that the more socially prominent they are, the less likely they are to be found in public scenes.
The CBOs are created by people with a vision. However, in the last few years, most of the MSM CBOs in China have been turned into recruiting agencies for HIV test subjects. Even worse is the fact that they are not given the information on those who test positive. Therefore, they can’t provide counseling. CBO’s frustration towards the system mounts while their reputation is tarnished.
We knew for a long time the solution was 100% community-based rapid testing. When testing service is friendly, private, and with quality follow-up, it benefits the authorities, the CBOs, and gay men at large. The hidden population of MSM will seek out QRT providers on their own. The CBOs will have a tool to connect with clients directly. The CDC will have less lost contacts.
But the government is not ready to endorse this seemingly win-win-win solution. The CDCs are hung up on matters of bio-safety, accuracy of rapid testing, and confidentiality. They want CBOs to bring in medical professionals and to be certified by the CDC. They want control. In order to win over the government’s confidence, QRT has to take root in multiple urban centers in China within a small window of opportunity, namely 40 sites in three years.
Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project
My roommate visited a community health center in the Castro of San Francisco for an HIV test. The counselor told him that if his HIV+ partner’s viral load was undetectable, he wouldn’t have to worry about contracting HIV from him. This experience kick-started my thinking on how to design a rights-based rapid testing.
Many grassroots activists were asked by the CDC to recruit gay men for testing. But they were not informed of the test results and unable to provide help to those who tested positive. We knew the answer had to be rapid testing which would put the power back in the hands of caring CBOs. But we also have to be careful about burn-out. So it is important to set boundary, and made QRT a limited edition testing.
QRT was to provide optimal care, and yet the protocol has to be universal enough to spread across China. It has to be both detailed and simple simultaneously. I brainstormed with activists in China and researched many different ways of counseling. I knew if I was tested HIV+, I would not want to be bounced around in and out of the system, from one person to another. Companion-in-Need was the answer.
Finally, the name Quality Rapid Testing was a daring claim. I was often questioned about what that means. My dog passed away not long ago. He had the kindest vet who helped me through the process, kind, calm, and professional. She explained every detail, waited for me to give her the OK, and afterwards, sent me a lovely note to ease my grief. I believe every one of our participants have that ability to give, to care, and to love. They will define Quality.