Now Reading
Inspired by Pokemon Go, Philippines app helps LGBTI access condoms

Inspired by Pokemon Go, Philippines app helps LGBTI access condoms

Philippines app Safe Spaces was inspired by Pokemon Go (Photo: Tumblr)

A new smartphone app in the Philippines is expanding to connect more LGBTI people and others with free condoms in ‘safe spaces.’

The app’s developer, advocacy group LoveYourself, hopes to tackle the country’s high rate of new HIV infections.

The Safe Spaces app came about after the LGBTI community and the country’s health department reported poor access to condoms, said Vinn Pagtakhan, Founder and Executive Director of LoveYourself.

Volunteer developers were inspired by Pokemon Go that was a hit in the capital, Manila, during development, he said.

The Philippines has some of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the world. Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women (TGW) are particularly at risk.

Often, stigma and discrimination prevent MSM and TGW from accessing protection.

The Safe Spaces app provides users with the location of sex positive places to grab free condoms and lube without being judged.

Users can locate a ’safe place’ on the app and find a dispenser by the discreet logo.

‘We had 1,000 downloads in the first month,’ said Pagtakhan.

‘Now, we have had almost 10,000 downloads and  72 partner establishments distribute 1,000 condoms less than a week,’ said Pagtakhan.

Safe Spaces app directs LGBTI and others to condoms and lubricant in the Philippines. (Photo: LoveYourself)
Safe Spaces app directs LGBTI and others to condoms and lubricant in the Philippines. (Photo: LoveYourself)

Tackling the Philippines’ ‘national emergency’

New HIV cases in the Philippines in 2017 hit 11,103. Astoundingly, that’s up more than 3,000 percent compared to ten years earlier.

Health professionals have described the high rates, especially among 15 to 24 year old MSM and TGW, as a ‘national emergency.’

Low condom use in the Philippines is the primary reason for the dramatic increase in HIV infections, according to experts.

The predominately-Catholic country is socially conservative, which prevents access to condoms.

Moreover, laws prohibit health-care workers from providing people younger than 18 years with protection. Laws also forbid HIV testing for under 18s without parental consent.

The Philippines government has failed to advocate condom use and provide adequate sex education, Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch told The Lancet HIV earlier this month.

‘Condoms are the most reliable and easily available way to prevent the spread of HIV,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, the government has its head in the sand or is just deferring too much to conservatives.’

More than just safe spaces

LoveYourself is in the process of adding more condom dispensers across Metro Manila. It aims to have 150 across the country by the end of the year.

The condom dispensers are the beginning of what LoveYourself wants the mobile app to become: a onestop place for sexual health promotion.

Pagtakhan hopes to offer awareness videos, sex diaries, condom promotions, PrEP, and other HIV and sexual transmitted diseases prevention efforts.