Bangkok, Thailand, 1st of March, 2021 – To mark Zero Discrimination Day, APCOM launches a short report that compiles stories and articles published in the Covid-19 Effect Series, a newsletter created by APCOM to profiles issues, challenges and solutions from the LGBTQI communities and key populations across Asia and the Pacific. Since April 2020, with more than 19 issues, the series has provided a platform to leverage the voices of people living with HIV and LGBTQI to share stories, highlight challenges, showcase innovation and build strength within these communities.
The Covid-19 Effect Series sheds light on the pandemic’s impact among diverse SOCIESC communities, key populations and people living with HIV and their access to HIV prevention and treatment services. Challenges include limited or no government support for youth including homelessness; loss of income; increased gender-based violence; and restriction of movement for key populations and people living with HIV in accessing HIV prevention and treatment services. From Ulaanbaatar to Tokyo to Bangkok to Suva, individuals and communities have stepped up to address the challenges and deliver services in the face of this unprecedented global health crisis.
“The Covid-19 Effect Series documents the important work carried by our community partners and individuals in response to Covid-19. The series capture inspiring stories from the grass-roots level on overcoming challenges, sharing of best practices and how we are all working tirelessly to ensure access to HIV prevention and treatment services and protection of LGBTQI rights,”says Midnight, Executive Director at APCOM.
Civil society organisations play a critical role in providing essential safety-nets for vulnerable communities during the pandemic. One of the most emblematic story presented in the compilation is that of Khartini Slamah, a transgender woman and activist from Sarawak, Malaysia. Since the first COVID-19 outbreak in Malaysia, Khartini who is also known as ‘Mama Tini’, has been working closely to provide support to transgender women (TGW), men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSW) to encourage sexual health screening and testing and to raise awareness of HIV and STI on social media.
The newsletter is also a testament to how community-led organisations have used the structure and networks from the HIV response to ensure timely access to information about Covid-19 while preventing the disruption to HIV services. Examples of these initiatives include how community-led HIV services provide antiretroviral therapy (ARV) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to key populations and showcase fundraising efforts for food packages.
CARMAH, a partner in Vietnam, has been implementing the TestSGN initiative to encourage HIV testing in Ho Chi Minh City for several years. Since the beginning of the pandemic, CARMAH provided PrEP to 450 men who have sex with men and transgender clients in two private clinics across Ho Chi Minh city. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the organisation implemented more flexible working schedules to ensure PrEP and other HIV testing services were not disrupted.
The stories also highlight the contribution of young LGBTQI to the Covid-19 response. For example, an article features the work of Youth for Health (YFH) to provide sexual health programs in Mongolia during the pandemic. YFH, in collaboration with People in Need, an NGO in Mongolia, prepared and distributed survival kits to elderly MSM and transgender people in poor living conditions and organised four training events for MSM in smaller and manageable capacities. The training focused on educating MSM on HIV, safe sex and HIV testing, and YFH provided counselling services and medical advice in person and online.
The Covid-19 Effect Series also captures the unique voices of outreach workers. One of them is Deepak Tripathi, a Senior Programme Officer at Committed Communities Development Trust (CCDT), an organisation based in Mumbai, India. Deepak has a background and passion for documentary movies, story-telling and news-anchoring, but now works full time at CCDT. Throughout the pandemic, Deepak has been committed to helping communities hit hard by the economic fall-out from COVID-19. CCDT held fundraising events to support migrant workers and daily-wager communities, donated medical equipment and 3,000 PPE kits to hospitals units in Mumbai and supplied nutrition kits or bags to the 500 individuals and their families and those who are living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
APCOM has also used the Covid-19 Effect Series to promote fundraising initiatives like #CoronaAPCOMpassion, an emergency fund started by APCOM staff donating their salaries. APCOM collaborated with SWING, the Thai Sex Workers Organization, based in Bangkok and Pattaya and mobilised 20,000 baht (650 USD) to purchase basic food and supplies for sex workers. Also, APCOM donated 9,000 baht (300 USD) to the Bangkok Rainbow Organization to support the health and well-being of LGBTQI people in Thailand. You can watch the video here and read about other communities that have benefited from this emergency funding – and how you can support.
“Human-interest stories included in APCOM’s newsletter are meant to raise the visibility of human rights violations and challenges faced by LGBTQI people and people living with HIV in accessing health services. The stories are also a channel to convey advocacy messages calling for flexibility in donor funding for activities that are needed by the community. The series amplifies community voices that have often been unheard in Covid-19 narratives,”says Eamonn Murphy, Regional Director of UNAIDS Asia Pacific.
UNAIDS Asia Pacific has been one of the partners that provided financial support to APCOM to make the newsletter a reality.
The COVID-19 Effect Series has been disseminated through mailing lists to various partners and social media channels, collecting over 25,000 views. Each episode consists of three or four stories collected by APCOM in collaboration with their constituencies at the country level.
Tokyo’s LGBTQ+ Community Center Response to COVID-19
“We are worried about the division within the community. Currently, customers are not coming back to Shinjuku 2-chome and other areas where LGBTQ+ people used to gather in person. Even if we offer online programs and information, the “sense of solidarity” will fade.”
Advocacy during the new normal in Papua New Guinea
“PLHIV are struggling to get to clinics in order to get their ART drugs due to logistical issues, e.g. transportation or transport fares. When there is a shut down, all the public transport remains non active.”
The impact of stigma on Indian transgender people during Covid-19
In India, transgender people and Hijra are the most affected by social distancing measures as they do not have any source of income or financial support, since they mostly depend on begging and sex work. Most of them have lost their jobs and are left with no choice. Due to their loss, community members are at risk because of increasing hunger and poverty.”
HIV Hero – Sriyal Nilanka – Sri Lanka
“When I first started to open up about my HIV status and the fact that I was living with HIV – it was a difficult piece of information for even some of those in the community to accept…some of them felt threatened that I as a person who’s living with HIV is amongst them, and that they would be coming into contact with someone like me…It led to me being bullied and harassed on social media which led me to make a decision to work in the [NGO] sector and change what it meant to be living with HIV for the people in my community.”
Transgender Hero – Nayyab Ali – Pakistan
“I was attacked and physically assaulted last week only due to advocating against ongoing attacks on the transgender community. I was feeling very unsafe and disheartened during this traumatic situation, but at the same time receiving this prestigious title filled me with more courage to work for the rights of our community and make a safe world for the LGBTQI Community. This acknowledgment gave me hope that one day we will be equal, empowered and change the world.”
Covid-19 Hero – Jaringan Indonesia Positif – Indonesia
“We choose to bring back the enthusiasm and hope of those affected by COVID-19. Because we still have hopes of pursuing the big goal of JIP, which is ‘Fulfilling the right to health for people living with HIV through a peer support system within the framework of Human Rights and gender equality’. We can’t do it alone. So, come on! Let’s move together to raise the hope and spirit of struggle for our friends out there, help them spread the wings of hope; and become empowered PLHIV individuals despite the uncertain pandemic storm till when it ends.”