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A cross-border HIV prevention programme

A cross-border HIV prevention programme

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Foto door Anna Shvets via Pexels

A HIV prevention programme specifically geared towards the Euregion, is what professor Kai Jonas and PhD candidate Lizette Krist want to set up. But first they need to discover the needs of the groups at risk in the region. Also, how do you get the different local area health authorities, municipalities and provinces to agree?

“The current HIV prevention policy is very much focussed on metropolitan areas,” says Jonas, professor of Applied Social Psychology. “In the Randstad, for example, there is the H team, which combines various partners in the fight against HIV. And it works: the number of infections is dropping. There is nothing like this for the peripheral areas, let alone the Euregion. Every country has its own statistics, so we don’t even know exactly how many HIV infections there are here.” “The fact that it is now on the province of Limburg’s agenda, who is also co-financing the research, is already extraordinary,” says PhD candidate Lizette Krist.

Three countries, that means three health care systems, languages and local customs. “The population of a city is diverse too,” says Krist. “But people there have equal access to testing and care.” Jonas: “For example, there is an app with which you can anonymously send messages to previous sex partners if you have tested positively for HIV. You can then approach your GP with this information. But how will a French- or German-speaking GP react when you show him or her this message in Dutch? Will they know that it is real? Is that a reason for them to start treatment?”

The researchers also want to speak with people who, through their sexual orientation or work, run a higher HIV infection risk. Krist: “What are the specific experiences in the region? Is it more difficult to speak about safe sex if you don’t speak each other’s language or are not good in English?” Jonas: “Do people who have travelled 45 minutes on the bus for a date, see that as a greater ‘investment’ than if they had cycled for five minutes and therefore are more likely to agree to unsafe sex? We don’t know.”

When this information has been collected and the three countries come together, a HIV prevention programme can be set up that focusses on the Euregion. “Easily accessible for everyone. Because the Netherlands can state that it wants to reduce the number of HIV infections to 0, but then you also have to look beyond the border,” says Jonas.

This research is one of the ways in which Jonas fulfils his chair, which has a special focus on LGBTQ+ diversity and health. “I have noticed that UM employees now know where to find me for advice on diversity in their team. I am glad about that. I started a project on diversity in the international classroom. Imagine you have someone in your tutorial group who might be non-binary, who is wrestling with his or her identity. At the same time, there is also a student in the group who is from a conservative country. How do you deal with that as a tutor? How can you ensure that there is space for everyone?”

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