HIV community organisations in Thailand have told a visiting delegation of Australian politicians that HIV funding needs to be targeted effectively to combat the rapidly escalating HIV epidemic among vulnerable people in the region.
Drawn from Australia’s government and opposition benches, the delegation of eight politicians visited Thailand and Myanmar recently to meet local community groups and health officials to learn more about local and regional HIV and malaria programmes. Some of the programmes they were briefed on focus on people at high risk of HIV transmission, such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and injecting drug users.
The visit was organised by Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, and was supported by a range of local and regional organisations including APCOM and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.
APCOM Executive Director Midnight Poonkasetwattana said the visit provided an opportunity for local community groups to highlight the gap between the money that’s available and the community-led services needed to bring HIV under control among people at high risk of HIV transmission, particularly in places such as Thailand and Myanmar.
“The 2008 Commission on AIDS in Asia has indicated that by 2020 close to half of all new HIV infections in the region will be among men who have sex with men.”
“The Asia Pacific region has been experiencing a rising HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men,“ Mr Poonkasetwattana said. “The 2008 Commission on AIDS in Asia has indicated that by 2020 close to half of all new HIV infections in the region will be among men who have sex with men and this is an unacceptable trend.”
“In Myanmar, HIV prevalence is 0.2 percent among the general population but over 11 percent for men who have sex with men. In Bangkok, almost one in three men who have sex with men is living with HIV. Without increased resources for targeted programmes addressing HIV among men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who inject drugs, this situation will worsen to create an even more serious public health issue for countries across our region.”
“We know what needs to be done to start turning this around but right now there’s simply not enough funding going to the necessary community-led programmes and services, with UNAIDS estimating that we need an additional US$2 billion.”
“Only 30 percent of available funding is directed to preventing HIV among [populations at risk].”
“Also, the funds that are available should be more sharply focused. Figures from AIDS Data Hub show that men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and people who inject drugs account for up to 90 percent of new HIV transmissions in the Asia Pacific region. However, only 30 percent of available funding is directed to preventing HIV among these communities. We need more of this funding allocated to reaching young people in these communities, promoting HIV testing campaigns, increasing access to HIV prevention drug PrEP, and educating people about the benefits of early treatment and the effectiveness of antiretrovirals.”
“Without [the] partnerships, many of these outcomes would not be possible and the health of many already vulnerable people would be placed in even greater jeopardy.”
“Having the delegation here to witness the transformative effect of our programmes is an important part of our advocacy. We thank the delegates for their time and effort in gaining a greater understanding of how we can work together to build a better future for us all.”
AFAO Chief Executive Darryl O’Donnell said by fostering partnerships with local communities through organisations such as the Global Fund, Australia is helping hundreds of thousands of people across Asia and the Pacific who are often marginalized in their respective societies in terms of healthcare. “Without these partnerships, many of these outcomes would not be possible and the health of many already vulnerable people would be placed in even greater jeopardy,” Mr. O’Donnell said.
AFAO Chief Executive Darryl O’Donnell and AFAO Technical Advisor Greg Gray with Kath Khangpiboon from Thai Transgender Alliance
Some of the programmes which were showcased for the delegation include the SHIFT (Sustainable HIV Financing in Transition) programme, which helps HIV organisations in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand develop their capacity to advocate for HIV prevention and treatment funding from their respective national governments. SHIFT is delivered through a partnership between APCOM, AFAO and the Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organisations (APCASO) with funding from the Global Fund.
Delegates were also briefed about investment from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade funded Regional HIV Capacity Programme JumpStart, another APCOM and AFAO collaboration. This investment connected APCOM to its members across Southeast Asia and the Pacific so they can advocate and deliver their prevention, testing and treatment services more effectively. For more information about JumpStart, read its evaluation report here.
The visiting Australian parliament members are Mrs Nola Marino MP (LIB), Hon Damian Drum MP (NAT), Mr Chris Crewther MP (LIB), Hon Catherine King MP (ALP), Mrs Ann Sudmalis MP (LIB), Dr Mike Freelander MP (ALP), Mr Julian Hill MP (ALP) and Ms Madeleine King MP (ALP).