As the HIV/AIDS epidemic begins to hit more young Chinese, the nation's health and education authorities are installing vendor machines selling home HIV test kits on university campuses to help raise awareness and fight the disease.
To date, 10 Chinese universities in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Heilongjiang provinces, Beijing, and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region have joined the initiative many call "progressive" in a country where sex largely remains a taboo subject and systematic sex education is still lacking.
"We cannot wait to take action, but it's hard to do so, especially on university campuses. Otherwise we put the young students' health at risk," said Shen Jie, deputy director of the Chinese Association of STD and AIDS Prevention and Control, which led the initiative.
"More universities are talking with us to install such machines on campus as an alternative option for students seeking HIV testing, which should be normalised anyhow," she added.
Many students are reluctant to visit the HIV testing clinics run by the health authorities, even though a visit is free, she said. Privacy and fear of discrimination largely keep them away.
In recent years, China has seen a rapidly increasing HIV epidemic, particularly among young students aged 15 to 24, mostly via unprotected gay sex, said Wu Zunyou, head of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention.
Over the weekend, a story made national news headlines that 106 university students tested positive for HIV in a single district in Yuelu, Changsha, capital of central Hunan province, in recent years, local public health institutions revealed. Most of those infected were gay men.
Nationwide, during the first nine months of last year, more than 2,300 students in this age range were detected with HIV, roughly four times greater than in 2010.
In the vendor machine projects, the home test kits are on sale on campuses alongside snacks and beverages, according to Liu Peng, who's responsible for the association's programme. "There is more privacy this way."
The kit uses urine and costs 30 yuan (S$6.07) and one can check the result over the Internet after sending back the sample of urine to designated labs run by public health authorities. No ID information is required, he added.
"Roughly 100 samples were sent back from our campus during the first several months," said Zhang Jihong, head of the health centre at Southwest Petroleum University in Chengdu, Sichuan province.
As a pioneer, the university first joined the initiative in June 2016. The two vending machines selling the kits are at the health centre and the stadium, both frequented by students.
"I never saw anyone buy the kit but I did see the kit packages in our dormitory toilets. And that somewhat serves as an alert to me that the disease is actually all around and we need self protection," said a sophomore surnamed Du.
Shen Jie agreed. "The fact that more universities became willing to join us well demonstrates an ever-increasing public awareness of AIDS control," she said.
The positive trend has been seen among the general public and with the authorities as well.
The country will promote HIV home testing among the people to detect as many sufferers as possible for early treatment, said Wu Zunyou.
The home test kits have become largely available now at e-commerce platforms and will be on sale at pharmacies soon, he added.