PrEP 4 U?

December 14, 2022 by Tran Thi Tham (Deputy Chief of Party, USAID/PATH STEPS Project), Thanh Minh Le (CEO, Glink Social Enterprise), Dr. Tran Le Viet Thanh (Medical Director, Glink Social Enterprise), Zoe Humeau (Collaboration, Learning, and Action Coordinator), and Elizabeth Black (Editorial Copywriter)

How edutainment, student outreach, and multisector engagement are helping youth access HIV prevention and sexual health care.

A PrEP4U event promotes HIV and sexual health awareness among students at Marie Curie High School in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: PATH.

A PrEP4U event promotes HIV and sexual health awareness among students at Marie Curie High School in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: PATH.

Over the past decade, a growing number of new HIV cases have been reported among young populations—including men who have sex with men, students, and their partners—and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates are high among those aged 15 to 29 years old.

A lack of accurate health information and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services makes access to HIV and STI testing and counseling difficult.

While there have been efforts in Vietnam to grow SRH information provision, education, communication, and service delivery within educational settings, additional outreach is needed to ensure that young populations—including gay, transgender, and gender nonbinary individuals—are equipped with adolescent-friendly, gender-affirming HIV/SRH information and care packages that meet their needs.

Since 2014, PATH has been leveraging popular community influencers, cutting-edge digital tools, and innovative online-to-offline activities to link youth and other underserved communities to quality and respectful HIV and SRH services. In recent years, this effort has centered around promotion of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP, a daily oral pill to prevent HIV) and other related services such as HIV and STI testing, mental health counseling, and safe sexual and injecting practices.

Engaging youth in the HIV response for almost a decade

A student is among 300 who received PrEP and other HIV/SRH prevention knowledge and services during a mobile PrEP event at technical college. Photo: PATH.

A student is among 300 who received PrEP and other HIV/SRH prevention knowledge and services during a mobile PrEP event at Dong Nai Technical College. Photo: PATH.

Over eight years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/PATH Healthy Markets project and partners co-created numerous youth-focused campaigns promoting HIV and STI awareness and prevention. These included:

  • MTV Bus”—an MTV roadshow-style activity that was adapted to focus on LGBTQI+ topics and HIV for a six-episode season, reaching 1.5 million viewers.
  • Livestreams with gay influencer and YouTuber Dustin Nguyen (who has a young online following of 310,000+) on the topics of HIV, condom use, safe sex, and related health areas.
  • PrEP Bus”—a mobile PrEP delivery model that provides PrEP services to individuals in more remote/rural areas, or to those who are not able to travel to existing PrEP clinics, including young factory workers.
  • “I Love PrEP”—a series of PrEP educational events held at schools in Dong Nai Province.

“On my YouTube channel, I often work with other influencers and celebrities in co-promoting HIV/STI prevention services such as PrEP,” says Dustin Nguyen, key population influencer and founder of the popular Dustin on the Go YouTube channel. “This helps reach my audience—who are primarily young people living in urban areas—with information on HIV and sexual health and motivates them to seek health care. Using other online channels like Facebook and TikTok has also empowered me to create greater impact.”

“On my YouTube channel, I often work with other influencers and celebrities in co-promoting HIV/STI prevention services.”
— Dustin Nguyen, key population influencer and content creator

Last year’s student-focused “I Love PrEP” campaign provided proof that there is strong demand for sex education within school settings. In just two months, the campaign reached 1,300 students at eight colleges and universities with information on safe sex, including how and why to use condoms, contraception, PrEP, and HIV and STI testing.

Now, the USAID Support for Technical Excellence and Private Sector Sustainability in Vietnam (STEPS) project, funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and implemented by PATH, has launched a new student- and youth-focused initiative to further promote HIV and STI health care engagement and practices: PrEP4U.

PrEP for you, PrEP for me!

Co-designed by STEPS, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and youth leaders, the national “PrEP4U” campaign (where “U” stands for both “you” and “university”) uses a suite of edutainment (“educational entertainment”) activities at universities and high schools to enhance student knowledge about SRH and safe sex, and encourage students’ use of HIV and STI testing, PrEP for HIV prevention, and other SRH services.

In March 2022, STEPS and partners embarked on a “PrEP4U tour” across Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Dong Nai—three urban provinces of Vietnam with large populations of young students and workers and high HIV burdens. The tour included talk shows with clinical experts, interactive edutainment games focused on safe sex and sexual health, integration with other sexual education programs at the schools, and booth exhibitions where students could interact with staff from community-based primary care clinics and receive HIV testing, PrEP counseling, and referral for other services directly on-site.

STEPS collaborated with educational partners (such as student associations and school clubs) as well as popular key population influencers to optimize community reach.

The PrEP4U Facebook fan page has also become a hub of trustworthy SRH and PrEP information for students and has garnered more than 487,000 views since its launch in May 2022.

The PrEP4U Facebook page posts engaging content related to HIV, sexual and reproductive health, and other areas of interest to students. Photo: PATH.

The PrEP4U Facebook page posts engaging content related to HIV, sexual and reproductive health, and other areas of interest to students. Photo: PATH.

Through 32 PrEP4U events and engaging online content, STEPS and partners have reached more than 8,000 students, distributed 792 HIV self-test kits, and enrolled 317 individuals on PrEP. These results represent a significant achievement in expanding coverage of HIV prevention care and SRH services among target youth who may not otherwise have access to or seek out HIV prevention care.

“In the past, I was not aware of my HIV risk. Once my friend invited me to participate in a PrEP4U event organized by Glink. . . . I enrolled [on PrEP] . . . I feel safe and confident now.”
— A young PrEP client reached through PrEP4U

“In the past, I was not aware of my HIV risk,” said one student reached and enrolled on PrEP through the ‘PrEP4U’ campaign. “Once my friend invited me to participate in a PrEP4U event organized by Glink, I was advised by doctors and experts to use PrEP. I enrolled and I am happy with my decision—I feel safe and confident now.”

Targeting stigma and gaps in access to care

Centering around principles of choice, equity, and people-centeredness, STEPS continues to strengthen connections to communities to bring PrEP services and sex education closer to populations in need.

Moving forward, STEPS is forging strategic partnerships with public- and private-sector partners to equip young adults with adequate knowledge and promote safer-sex practices. For instance, STEPS recently partnered with Durex, the Ministry of Health, and Glink Academy to design and launch a new campaign targeting stigma in sexual health care. This campaign, “Break the Shame, Unite Together,” aims to normalize STI checkups and motivate individuals to seek regular STI testing.

The development and implementation of these people-centered campaigns represent an important step in meeting clients where they are and providing HIV/SRH care that aligns with their needs and preferences. Such outreach models can have outsized effects on reducing HIV and STI transmission and improving overall well-being across generations.