#PutPeopleFirst: APCOM AIDS 2024 Engagement

By July 10, 2024 July 18th, 2024 Advocacy, Publications

The 25th International AIDS Conference 2024 (AIDS 2024) is one of the largest conferences on global health development issues to enhance the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It serves as a forum for the intersections of science and advocacy, and serves as a platform to intensify and much needed political commitments to HIV/AIDS.

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“Compared with other regions, Asia and the Pacific has one of the highest proportions of key populations among new HIV infections. It is imperative that a significant proportion of our HIV prevention, testing, and treatment funding is channeled through the community-led organizations best placed to deliver concrete, population-specific interventions.” 

Midnight, APCOM Executive Director 

While the AIDS 2024 conference may focus on Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa regions – as the region closest to the host country, this does not dilute the fact that the epidemic in Asia and the Pacific is still rapidly evolving, requiring ongoing commitment. With a disease burden concentrated on key populations, there is an urgent need to sustain the key populations and community-focused responses. 

See where you can catch Midnight during AIDS 2024 below:

Since 2010, there has been just a 14% reduction in new infections for Asia and the Pacific region as a whole, with rising epidemics in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. A quarter (26%) of new infections are among young key populations, ages 15 – 24. Almost half (46%) of all new infections were among men who have sex with men.

From Montréal to München

The conference is a key event in the fight against AIDS and provides a platform for researchers and community leaders to share their expertise on the current state of the epidemic and how we can best prevent further transmission of the virus – especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. The relevance of the conference is its ability to provide a platform for the sharing of best practices and research findings among public health experts from different regions of the world. It provided a platform for health agencies and other stakeholders from around the world to share resources and information, and collaborate on issues relating to HIV. The face-to-face conference serves as a platform to establish new partnerships and strengthen existing partnerships between various global health organisations.

For AIDS 2022 However, the attendance of key populations, especially those coming from Africa and Asia has been restricted due to reasons concerning visa applications, and we hope that for AIDS 2024, more community members will not be restricted, and can attend the conference. 

“My participation in the AIDS 2022 is a privilege. Many from my key population and PLHIV community were denied entry to Canada and were not able to participate. But I was there in person despite COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing humanitarian crises. Every time I was on stage and holding a microphone, I was always reminded that these times demand for greater inclusivity. We aim for a holistic approach to health, and so we must answer the call to speak for the bigger community to include other key populations and to highlight issues from other Regions including the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America.”

Inad Quinones Rendon, APCOM

What did we do at AIDS 2023? 

“It’s awe-inspiring to see so many passionate people gather together under one roof. Also, the in-person connection I made with friends – both old and new – during the conference is really amazing. Not only was it my first-ever AIDS Conference, it was also my debut to speak in such a high profile event at global level. Priceless moments.”

Nicky Suwandi, APCOM 

With over ten official engagements, our team of 5 people were very busy at the conference. Though, as it was still during Covid-19, there were noticeably less people than pre-Covid time, but participants are more than glad for a chance to reconnect physically. 

For the pre-conference, APCOM shared what a project on U=U in Asia-Pacific looks like. Through community consultations with PLHIV networks, we contextualized the messages of U=U using the differing settings of Asian countries. From our implementation, we found that contextualizing the messages based on U=U are effective in guiding the PLHIV networks as they develop their respective advocacies.

There was a satellite session on PrEP where APCOM highlighted that it is crucial for PrEP demand generation activities to be led by communities. Community-led messaging is effective in addressing the questions of target-users who identify as a key population. The diversification of PrEP service models must also include community-led distribution of PrEP.

APCOM, with the support from global key population networks, spoke on behalf of the key population during the launch of the new WHO consolidated guidelines on HIV, hepatitis and STIs prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care for key populations. A call was made to the governments to follow the guidelines and to ensure that national HIV programs include initiatives that will promote enabling environments for the key populations at the country level. APCOM also expressed frustration on the limited key population representation during a session that is about and for them. It is recalled that a number of community delegates were unable to participate in the conference due to issues on visa applications.

Another important satellite session on HIV self-testing where APCOM shared the factors for effective HIVST implementation using the lens of key population and communities at the country level. APCOM shared important factors to consider in increasing the awareness and demand for HIVST, especially among MSM and MSM who engage in chemsex. In addition, there was a call that HIVST must be delivered by the community-led service providers.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) organised a session to discuss ways to reduce inequalities in the HIV response. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the existing challenges the key population face in accessing HIV services such as discriminatory practices, restriction to movements based on criminalization, and insufficient income. To reach people who are most vulnerable and to achieve sustained epidemic control of HIV it is imperative to apply an equity lens across the global HIV response. APCOM presented the challenges that the key populations in Asia-Pacific still face in accessing HIV services.

Looking ahead at new innovations, APCOM took part in the satellite on effectively delivering injectable cabotegravir for PrEP, To ensure that this option transforms into real choice for the community and to learn from the early pitfalls of introduction of oral PrEP.

At the Global Village on Sex, Drugs, and HIV APCOM highlighted the successful implementation of the ‘Party Pack’ initiative, which introduced in the last few years through our flagship MSM-specific online digital campaign testBKK and currently Other APCOM’s publications related to issues of sexualized drug use were also highlighted, especially the qualitative scoping review among MSM and transgender women in Asia, and the chemsex-specific guide for program planners in Southeast Asia.

At an off-site session, APCOM gathered representatives from community-based organisations from around Asia to discuss ways to further advocate for stigma-free care services in the fight against HIV epidemic. APCOM’s years of community work experience and expertise in advocacy became instrumental in encouraging and inspiring participants to share their experience, learning and ideas on what more can be done to break down stigma in HIV clinical setting.

Lastly, APCOM hosted a fun reception to celebrate our 15th anniversary, and also launched innovationsmap.asia – an online repository about PrEP, HIVST, and U=U in Asia- Pacific to  help community-based organizations and service delivery providers to gain more knowledge to implement tailored approaches and client-centered services for HIV prevention tools and COVID-19 related services. The online resource hub is set up to share common knowledge within the communities in Asia-Pacific about PrEP, HIVST, U=U.

APCOM has always had a presence at the International AIDS Conference since 2010, as we believe that key population communities from Asia and the Pacific play a crucial role in the AIDS response, in particular when it comes to community-led services, and innovative approaches.

Crucially though, we want to raise issues on the prevention gap in the region, and that our epidemic remains outside the political support as it is concentrated on key populations.

Taking you back to APCOM’s previous International AIDS Conference engagements

AIDS 2020, Virtual

2018 Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2016 Durban, South Africa

2014 Melbourne, Australia 

2012 Washington DC, USA

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