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Fogarty fellow capitalizes on crowdsourcing to promote HIV self-testing

20th Anniversary of Global Health Fellows and Scholars

Photo of Dr. Weiming Tang

Dr. Weiming Tang chose his research area after several years of volunteer work in his home country of China. While in college, he worked on a program that aimed to spread awareness about HIV among students at his college. Later, he established a peer-to-peer training program on HIV education at other universities. Recognizing the need for growth in this area, he decided to make this the focus of his career.

One unique feature of Tang's research is that he often uses crowdsourcing to develop tools for the men who have sex with men (MSM) and the transgender populations in China. Crowdsourcing—where information is obtained from a large group of people usually via the internet—is a bottom-up strategy that allows researchers to work with their target populations and develop interventions tailored to their needs. For the MSM and transgender communities in China, this is important as the stigma around these groups often pushes individuals into the shadows, forcing them to use more discreet forms of communication. "I noticed this trend in the MSM community in China and realized it was an opportunity to develop a tool that would allow for better adherence while they are able to look for resources more discreetly."

Tang's Fogarty project analyzed the cost-effectiveness of a crowdsourcing video and conventional video for HIV testing uptake campaigns among MSM and transgender individuals in China. Their randomized controlled trial compared first-time HIV testing rates among 721 MSM and transgender individuals who had received either a crowdsourced video or a conventional health marketing video, both promoting HIV testing. The team measured HIV test uptake within three weeks of watching either video as well as the cost of the services being promoted—a first-time HIV test and a HIV diagnosis.

Tang and his colleagues found a 2% difference in uptake rates between the two videos, with the crowdsourced version being slightly more favorable. They also found that the crowdsourced interventions cost substantially less—just US$131 vs. US$238 for the first-time HIV test and US$415 vs. US$799 for the HIV diagnosis. The results demonstrated that crowdsourcing may be a more cost-effective tool. "Learning how to do a cost-effective analysis was instrumental for me," said Tang. "It's something I now implement into all of my projects so that we can better understand if projects can be scaled-up sustainably, which is always of concern to decision-makers."

Tang's Fogarty year was a huge transition period for him. He was promoted to post-doctoral fellow and later to faculty the very same year he was accepted into the program. "Fogarty allowed me to conduct independent research and helped me develop the foundation for my future research and build strong relationships with Chinese research institutes."

Today, he is the co-director of the UNC China Project, a collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Chinese partner organizations. The project aims to expand collaboration for global health research through research, teaching, and service. There he oversees the research and collaborates with different institutes in China. He also ensures a robust mentoring program for the research assistants in China, giving them the support they need for their career development.

He has since expanded upon his work, using crowdsourcing methodologies for mental health issues related to COVID-19. He continues to use digital health tools to reduce HIV stigma and increase testing among highly affected communities in China. When asked about the future of LAUNCH, he says, "I hope that collaborative programs like this one can continue so that Chinese researchers can continue to grow in the global health research space."

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Updated May 13, 2024

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