“The UNAIDS 2022 report Putting Young Key Populations First, highlights in Asia and the Pacific, young people accounted for 26% of new HIV infections, and that less than 25% of young gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and young people who inject drugs receive HIV prevention services,” commented Midnight Poonkasetwattana, the Executive Director of APCOM. He added, “Almost half of new HIV infections in young people were among gay men and other MSM. This is the epidemic we are dealing with.”
With support from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, APCOM led a series of initiatives to increase demand and access to HIV prevention, particularly condoms and lubricants. These initiatives are part of the larger Indo-Pacific HIV Prevention Program (period 2021-2023), implemented in cooperation with community partner organizations in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, in which Midnight emphasized, “Our work with community partners are to ensure community leadership and ownership through peer-to-peer learning from APCOM’s own flagship online testBKK model to reach MSM, including young MSM.”
Aiming to replicate the success of Party Packs launched by APCOM’s testBKK during COVID-19 pandemic times, and the model is featured in the World AIDS Day Report 2023: Let Communities Lead, the concept for these projects are redesigned and specifically-tailored to be fit into the country context of three implemented countries. A series of focus group discussions with targeted beneficiaries took place in the initial phase of the project, which resulted in strategic information to efficiently yield the project goals and informed best approaches to reach the ‘hard-to-reach’ beneficiaries. Other results from the initial mapping exercise included a set of key messages and an advocacy plan for countries to implement the project.
MSM and young MSM in three capital cities of implementing countries (Phnom Penh, Jakarta and Manila) are provided with creatively-designed HIV prevention packages, which consists of condoms, lubricants and other relevant materials. Communities can easily access online through a dedicated ordering platform and these packages will be delivered to or picked up in the place that they are most comfortable with (e.g. home, office, community health service provider clinics, etc.). The initiative is supported by a mini demand creation campaign through existing social media platforms managed by community implementing partners, which promote the aforementioned packages, along with other relevant information to raise awareness on the importance of HIV prevention.
“Our strategic information about HIV epidemics in Asia and the Pacific points us toward a focus on concrete interventions that serve MSM, and particularly young MSM. This is the most urgent priority of the regional AIDS response given the rising MSM epidemics and slow declines we see in several countries,”Eamonn Murphy, the Regional Director of UNAIDS Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe Central Asia Regions provided his comments.
“We know that in many contexts this is in part due to a lack of relevant prevention education and gay-friendly sexual health services. We also know that MSM-led organizations are best placed to respond to the challenge,”he further explained.
In relation to the World AIDS Day 2023 theme, Eamonn brought to mind the important role of community-led organizations in the HIV response, “The fundamentals of ensuring safer sex information and commodity access remain critical for HIV prevention. Only our community leaders can get this job done. Let communities lead!” An opinion that is very much reflected upon this project where meaningful initiatives are implemented for, with and by communities.
The community implementing partners – Men’s Health Cambodia (MHC) in Cambodia, Jaringan Gaya Warna Lentera Indonesia (GWL-INA) in Indonesia, and HIV & AIDS Support House (HASH) in the Philippines – as well as the regional partner – Youth Voices Count (YVC), a Philippine-based regional network for young LGBTQ+, who is providing youth-perspective and ensuring the engagement of young people – are collaboratively working together to provide their level best efforts, ensuring the initiatives are making great impacts for their respective communities. Additionally, they managed to secure support from private sectors, a promising step that will bridge in achieving the goal of sustainability for community-led initiatives going forward.
YVC Executive Director, Anthony Lopez, stated,
“This project provided young MSM the opportunity to get more access points for HIV services and commodities without compromising safety and security especially in areas where prejudice against SRHR services thrives, and acts related to sex are frowned upon, let alone criminalized. This tells us that demand for the commodities is growing and that this demand should be met with consistency, confidentiality and safety with a sprinkle of creativity, optimism, dignity and love.”
Published on: 30 November 2023