We went virtual
The International AIDS Conferences, which is organised every 2 years, brings together key populations, community networks, HIV activists, researchers, technical support providers, funders, UN Agencies and government leaders from around the world to update progress in our fight against AIDS as well as defining roadmap to strengthen the response against HIV.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a new wave of crisis that we have not prepared for. It has pushed more than half of the world’s population to isolation and mandatory quarantine. International travels are restricted to control the spread of COVID-19 infections. As a consequently, all program-related activities such as meetings are greatly affected.
International AIDS Conference present new sciences, innovations and good practices in the fight against HIV, hence, it plays significant role in HIV programming. It is also a space where key population communities and their organisations convene to establish networks and share lessons learned, hence, it also strengthens community-led advocacy. Being such, the conference being organised virtually aimed to continue to deliver new sciences and serve as a venue for communities to interact.
APCOM, with the support of ViiV Healthcare, organised the Pre-Conference to ensure that important issues from the key population communities continue to be represented at the global level, and to serve as an avenue for our community partners to elevate their advocacies to a broad range of stakeholders.
The virtual experience is indeed a new experience where everyone, including us, learned a new approach to continue community representation and advocacy despite wide coverage of restrictions on mobility.
Delivery of messages and representation of community issues also going virtual
The APCOM AIDS 2020 Pre-Conference takes inspiration from our Rights, Resources, Resilience in Asia Pacific (RRRAP) Summit in 2017 which covered a range of issues from the response to HIV, the health and rights of vulnerable communities, and investment to the community. The Pre-Conference is another attempt to heighten the needed political will to increase investment to MSM-led HIV programs and build partnerships and collaboration between the key population networks in Asia Pacific, North America and Canada.
Titled Rights, Resources, Resilience 2020, the pre-conference gathered over 10 speakers from Asia Pacific, to establish a case and share reflections on how investments from PEPFAR and the Global Fund have helped to strengthen the community-led responses, especially in this COVID-19 pandemic era. The pre-conference also helped in gathering strategic inputs from our speakers in developing our new strategic framework.
APCOM organised a four (4) sessions from 30 June 2020 to 03 July 2020. The opening session, a LIVE session was a platform where our Ambassadors shared their insights into the cross-cutting themes of human rights, resources for continued HIV work, and resilience of community-led organisations. Our Ambassadors shared insights that are significant to the development of APCOM’s new Strategic Framework.
Dr. Adeeba Kamarulzaman, APCOM’s Research Ambassador and incoming IAS President, points the strong evidence on PrEP’s efficacy. However, scale up is still a challenge. Costs and availability of PrEP remain a challenge especially to countries where PrEP is not included in their national guidelines. Organisations, such as APCOM, need to intensify the efforts to increase awareness of PrEP among MSM. She also mentioned that HIV Self-Testing has the opportunity to circumvent stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings but awareness efforts need to be conducted.
Prasada Rao, APCOM’s HIV/AIDS Ambassador, considered the effects of COVID-19 pandemic to the HIV work especially in implementing programs in the future. He advocated to agencies such as World Health Organisation (WHO) in securing a space for communities’ engagements. Since COVID-19 has changed the routine of life in the communities, he calls for stakeholders to support communities to document the challenges as well as the lessons learned from the pandemic so communities can be more prepared and well-equipped in implementing future HIV programs including advocacy and service delivery.
This point was supported by Michael Bak, APCOM’s Private Sector Ambassador, by stating that COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges as well as opportunities for the communities and health service providers. It is high time to lobby and invite more allies to support the cause to improve health service delivery. Technology will also have a role in reaching to more potential supporters.
Hon. Justice Michael Kirby, APCOM’s LGBTI Human Rights Ambassador, highlighted that new approaches need to be observed in addressing the HIV epidemic as well as human rights issues. Considering the effects of the pandemic, we must find ways to reach to more people and involve them in the HIV and human rights response. The fight for equality for LGBTI people must be intensified and organisations like APCOM will continue to fight for human rights.
The second session is a Pre-Recorded session where our key population partners from Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea led the sharing of reflections on engaging with PEPFAR in the regional on how to intensify the call for investments to local communities. The third session (pre-recorded) was also led by our community partners who are working with the Global Fund to provide recommendations on how to step up national HIV programming for key populations in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Philippines and Pakitan.
The pre-conference concluded with compelling remarks and call for actions. Dr. Chris Beyrer of John Hopkins University, called for solidarity within the LGBTIQ communities not only in Asia Pacific and North America but also across the world. He is of the opinion that global funding agencies must have provisions of flexible allocations to community-based organisations which can be used to support essential services beyond HIV services.
Eamonn Murphy, Regional Director of UNAIDS RST, highlighted the importance to utilise the innovative tools and programs such as PrEP and HIV Self-Testing that harness the advantage of virtual spaces. These innovative tools must be placed within the community systems and we must ensure that they have the roles in the design, implementation, and delivery of HIV Services.
How far have we reached?
The experience for the virtual AIDS 2020 Conference also covers adjustments across time zones. The AIDS2020 Conference online program uses Pacific Daylight Timezone (PDT), San Francisco, USA, as basis for its schedule. To make it easier for our networks to access the sessions, APCOM presented schedules using several time zones in our region. Considering the differences in the time when APCOM sessions are organised, we are pleased to report our reach to AIDS 2020 conference participants.
From the records of the Organising Committee of the International AIDS Society, APCOM’s Sessions shared the following unique views or visits per day:
|Date||Total Unique Visits |
|Total Unique Visits Pre-Conference Week||18,386|
The table above presents the attendance of unique participants per day and for the week for all Pre-Conference sessions. Using the data from the International AIDS Society, APCOM will produce a specific report on our engagements during the Pre-Conference.
Continue to experience the virtual conference
For those who were not able to join the sessions during the pre-conference, you may still catch the sessions through the virtual platform of the International AIDS Conference.
The sessions will be available to IAS Members until 15th July, to everyone until 20th July.
The sessions will be on AIDS2020 website until 30th September.