GEAR UP. GET SET.
On 24 April 2020, APCOM facilitated ‘GEAR UP. GET SET.’ a virtual learning session for individuals and community-based organisations to learn more about COVID-19, standard preventive measures that community outreach workers can practice while delivering HIV services, and strategies on mitigating the effects to mental health about the pandemic especially among people living with HIV. The participants from Japan, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand were able to get more information about COVID-19 and standard preventive practices.
Dr. Patrick Eustaquio, HIV Primary Care Physician for gay men, bisexual men and transgender women from the Philippines, shared knowledge about COVID-19 from the medical perspective. He noted that COVID-19 is less likely to spread in a setting where a population or residents are staying at home and keeping social distance. But for community outreach workers who are delivering health services, it is important that CBOs and staff practice the standard preventive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes ensuring adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for outreach workers, CBO staff and their clients. He also stressed the importance of having clear communications between CBOs and local governments to ensure that procedures are in place for the delivery of HIV services especially linking PLHIV to ART.
The online learning session was also an opportunity for the participants to share other challenges that they face in delivering HIV services despite of COVID-19 outbreak. In Pakistan, PLHIV community are vulnerable to mental health issues and are experiencing anxiety and depression. They are most especially concerned about the sufficiency of ART supplies in their country. In the Cebu, Philippines, the ART is delivered to the PLHIVs through courier services. However, the stricter restrictions against movement in the province makes it more difficult to deliver life-saving ART to PLHIVs. In Japan, COVID-19 infections are rapidly increasing. Public health care facilities, which cater HIV services, are prioritising COVID-19 testing. The situation has created a challenge for the LGBTIQ community to access health services from public health care centers. A common challenge for the participants is the shortage of supply of alcohol and hand sanitizers which are very important part of PPE.
APCOM will continue to reach out to the community partners to the ground and provide support to immediately respond to the challenges.
The virtual online session is initiated by APCOM to respond to immediate needs of communities and community-based organisations as effect of COVID-19 pandemic. APCOM is supported by several programs and agencies including Sustainability of HIV Services for Key Populations in Asia (SKPA) Program led by AFAO and supported by the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, LINKAGES Program led by FHI360, Frontline AIDS, MPact Global Action, VOICE Global, and ViiV Healthcare.