[This post was sent in by Cedric Bien, a medical student at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine who is working in Guangzhou on a Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship awarded through UNC.]
Over the past thirty years, China has undergone rapid social and economic changes that have led it to become the world’s second largest economy. At the same time, sexually transmitted infections have made a dramatic comeback in China. Nearly eradicated during public health campaigns of the 1950s, syphilis cases have increased tenfold in the past decade to more than 20 cases per 100,000 people. China’s urban areas have been hit hard, with syphilis becoming the most common infection in Shanghai, and more syphilis cases in the wealthy province of Guangdong than in the entire European Union combined.
Traditional top-down public health models are poorly structured to address the sexual health concerns of China’s most at-risk populations. One-size-fits-all public health interventions are no longer feasible nor effective in China’s rapidly diversifying civil society. In addition, the global financial crisis has led many governments and community-based organizations (CBOs) to re-structure public health initiatives.
On October 31, Dr. Joe Tucker, an infectious disesase specialist at UNC and director of UNC Project-China, organized and chaired the second annual Social Entrepreneurship for Sexual Health (SESH) conference at the University of Hong Kong. The two-day meeting brought together community leaders, academic researchers, public health experts, and entrepreneurs in one room to discuss innovative solutions for the HIV and STD epidemics in China.
SESH harnesses the power of social enterprise in order to provide creative, sustainable answers to global health problems. CBOs have already begun offering sexual health services, although they are dependent on external funding for financial support. Independent revenue-generating enterprises will allow CBOs to become more community-responsive and sustainable. By building CBO financial and organizational capacity, SESH will help CBOs offer more accessible decentralized sexual heath services.
Sexual norms are changing rapidly among China’s young population, who are now wealthier, more educated, more mobile and more connected than ever before. SESH integrates the unique human, fiscal, and technological resources available in China today, in order to enable sexual health service delivery among its most at-risk populations.