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More education is needed for young people using online dating software to help them avoid HIV infection, experts said following media reports that gay males, including minors, had been infected with HIV after meeting sexual partners via China"s largest gay social networking app, Blued.
Blued announced on Sunday that it would close new registrations for a week, and intensify supervisory measures, including relying on technology and manpower to cancel accounts held by minors.
The company made the announcement after a report by Caixin magazine that said Blued, which claimed to have 40 million users, had become a new channel for young people to become infected with HIV.
The report cited research led by sexologist Zhang Beichuan that found a large number of users of the software were minors. He did not give exact figures.
Although the company forbids registration by minors, it does not verify people"s identification numbers, the report said.
Zhang and the company declined China Daily"s request for an interview on Monday.
Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while social software such as Blued and WeChat serve as platforms for people to make friends, young people and minors should be aware of the risks of HIV infection and protect themselves.
"As far as I can see, Blued has assumed the duty of informing and alerting its users about such risks on the platform," he said. "It is impossible for the company to check everyone"s ID during registration."
The number of minors with HIV in China is small, compared with the total number of people with HIV, he said.
In 2017, the total number of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in China was 134,512, and among them 0.6 percent were under 14 years old. Of those under 14 years old, 74 percent were infected via mother-to-child transmission.
About 0.7 percent of the total 134,512 cases, or 992 cases, were teens between 15 to 17 years old, 59 percent of whom were infected via homosexual contact and 38 percent via heterosexual contact, he said.
"Society and families have a responsibility to prevent minors from indulging in the internet, which has become a prevalent problem," he said.
Meng Lin, an HIV/AIDS rights advocate in Beijing, said social networking software, including Blued, should make improvements to prevent the spread of HIV, especially among minors.
"But it is not realistic to shut down such platforms to stop HIV infection," he said. "They are designed to facilitate people knowing each other. If the channel is lost, people may turn to underground channels for sex, which will be more difficult to supervise and more dangerous."
All of society has the responsibility to improve the education of young people to help them be in a better position to avoid HIV, he said.
Although heterosexual sex is the primary channel for HIV transmission in China, sex between men has become the dominant channel for HIV transmission in some places, especially among students.
In Beijing, the number of new HIV cases exceeded 2,800 between January and October, and nearly 70 percent were transmitted through sex between men.