This piece is written by Phil Limbumrung.
The Regional consultation entitled “Community-Based HIV Testing: Challenges and Opportunities” held in Bangkok, Thailand, on 10-11 October 2013 offered a great learning experience for me both as an individual and as an advocate. It provided an opportunity for open and friendly interaction among individuals and organisations advocating for the scaling up of HIV testing.
The purpose of the consultation was to discuss among partners their views on HIV Testing and Counseling and analyse the current HIV Testing models in the region. The consequent output will inform future efforts at the regional and country level to ensure that community demand for HIV Testing is created.
As the Media and Communications Officer of the Purple Sky Network (PSN), I had the chance to attend and participate in the said Regional Consultation. Being a young advocate, it was my first time attending such a large gathering of United Nations (UN) agencies and officers working on HIV and AIDS, International Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) whose discussions revolve around timely and pressing issues. The same was also an excellent venue for PSN to participate as we are a regional network of organizations, experts, professionals and volunteers working on HIV and AIDS issues relating to Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and Transgender individuals in the Greater Mekong sub-region, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China (only in Guangxi and Yunan provinces).
The first day focused on the presentations of professionals and academics on the topics; Testing and Counseling; Scaling up HIV Testing; and Counseling and Linkages to Care and Treatment. The discussions served an avenue for an insightful learning experience as it presented the different situations of HIV testing and counseling in many countries. At end of the session, the other participants and I enthusiastically shared various points of views and delivered commentaries in response to the presentations delivered. I believe that the exchange of ideas contributed largely to what the activity aimed to achieve for the session.
On the second day, speakers presented on the various challenges for HIV testing in different countries. There was also a round table discussion conducted on Challenges and Opportunities of HIV Testing that I was able to partake. I was grouped with Thailand-based CBOs together with USAID and UNAIDS.
The round table discussion focussed on whether or not the government shall increase its support to community based testing. This Government support can be in the forms of increased technical trainings and/or constant and consistent quality check inspections to testing centers. I hold the opinion that if community based testing and counselling be fully operated with a high level of support from the Government, it would significantly contribute to the increase of testing rates. Currently, the CBOs are performing great work in reaching out to the target groups and the added support will further strengthen their capacity to reach more affected population and sustain the same. As for me, these are the challenges that Thailand is facing that needs to be advocated. As testing is the gateway to prevention and treatment, the same will also effectively help enhance the systematic linkages of HIV prevention, treatment and care.
Apart from being a participant of the consultation, I also had a chance to serve as an interpreter. Acting as such, I was able to connect a CBO working on Transgender Issues in Thailand and a UNAIDS Officer. I became one of their means to discuss various ideas and methods in increasing the visibility of the transgender community in Thailand. Additionally, I was able to interact and exchange profiles with many NGOs and World Health Organization (WHO) Officers who are based in Laos on the same issues. This opportunity is a potential link to other key players who can assist in developing the communications plan of PSN.
After the two-day intensive, I observe that clear and uninterrupted communication between the CBOs/NGOs and the Government plays a crucial role in achieving the desired support being advocated for. In addition, a healthy dialogue such as this consultation maintains relations of the parties. Furthermore, the desired end result of increased rate of HIV testing shall be achieved through a means consisting of concerted efforts of the pillars of society.
Parin Limbumrung, 23, (Phil) is currently the Media and Communications Officer for Purple Sky Network. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Rangsit University, Thailand. After graduating he worked in the private sector for a few years, before beginning his career with the MSM and Transgender community for Purple Sky Network.
Photo Caption 1: Participants in discussion at the Regional Consultation entitled “Community-Based HIV Testing: Challenges and Opportunities” held in Bangkok, Thailand, on 10-11 October 2013
Photo Caption 2: Parin Limbumrung (Phil), Media and Communications Officer for Purple Sky Network (PSN) in attendance at the the Regional Consultation in Bangkok, Thailand, 2013.
© PSN 2013, © APCOM 2013