The Chemsex Webinar and Other Chemsex-related Work Under SKPA-2

By July 4, 2024 SKPA

Nicky Suwandi

Knowledge Management & Innovations, APCOM

The combination of sex and substances, widely known in coined terms as ‘chemsex,’ is a complex and developing issue for marginalized and highly impacted communities in the HIV response. For example, recent data collected by local outreach workers in Sri Lanka revealed that of the 52 individuals who tested positive for HIV, approximately 75% reported using amphetamine-type substances and engaging in chemsex, highlighting it as a significant factor contributing to the rising HIV prevalence in the country.

“There is often a lack of knowledge about the associated risks and harms of chemsex among community members, including dangers of increased risk of HIV transmission, mental health issues, and addiction,”

said Indunil Dissanayaka from Heart to Heart, a community-based organization in Sri Lanka.

“Good interventions will provide essential education, resources, and support to mitigate these risks, promoting safer practices and improving overall well-being.”

Indunil was one of the panelists in the webinar titled “Understanding Chemsex in Asia: Insights in Response to the Rise of Sexualized Drug Use,” held on 30 May 2024. This webinar, part of the SKPA-2 Learning Series, provided an in-depth understanding of the growing phenomenon of sexualized drug use in the region and underscored the need for comprehensive and collaborative responses. It drew a groundbreaking number of participants, with over 450 registered attendees – a large number compared to other events in the Learning Series.

Watch the recording of the webinar on YouTube.

There was a panel discussion included Indunil, as a representative for Sri Lanka, along with Desi Andrew Ching (HASH, Philippines), Edx Aziz (Malaysian AIDS Council, Malaysia), and Mx. Yashwinder Singh/Lisa (Transgender Drug Experience Exchange (TDeX Collective), India). They shared their insights on several critical issues, identifying common primary chemsex-related challenges such as stigma, lack of awareness, and inadequate support services prevalent in their respective countries. They also discussed ongoing and planned responses at the country level.

Mx. Yashwinder Singh/Lisa, representing TDeX Collective, India’s first network addressing intersectionality issues among transgender women, particularly substance and stimulant use, commented,

“Transgender women engaging in chemsex face elevated health risks, including a higher likelihood of HIV infection, highlighting the urgent need for specialized, empathetic harm reduction programs.”

Other panelists emphasized the need for increased governmental support, enhanced community engagement, and more robust policy frameworks to effectively address chemsex.

Other notable speakers included Shaopicha Techo from the Department of Health – Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Thailand, who presented government-supported integrated services for harm reduction. Shaopicha highlighted these services’ effectiveness in mitigating chemsex risks and demonstrated the crucial role of governmental involvement. Tung Doan showcased an intervention model implemented at Lighthouse Social Enterprise, Vietnam, illustrating how innovative approaches can significantly support community members engaged in chemsex. The webinar concluded with heartfelt reflections by Francis Joseph from NAPUD.

“Criminalisation of drug use prevents people who use drugs from seeking treatment early for fear of arrest and incarceration. This fear is doubled amongst men who have sex with men and transgender women communities, where coming forward to seek treatment for chemsex would meaning outing oneself as MSM or transgender, as well as a person who use drugs in countries where same sex relationships and drug use are illegal and stigmatized,”

explained Palani Narayanan from Health Equity Matters.

“This results in lack of early interventions for those who face problems in their drug use, which could be life-saving.”

Palani, who set the stage for the webinar with a comprehensive presentation of the current landscape of sexualized drug use among men who have sex with men and transgender women, is a senior public health specialist focusing on drug policy reform in Malaysia under the SKPA-2 program. He added, “The double criminalisation of drug use and same sex relationships in so many Asian countries makes the need for our enhanced and joint effort to address chemsex issues, even more critical.”

There was a series of trainings conducted in Colombo, Sri Lanka (January 2024) and a community consultation recently conducted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (May 2024), which are preludes to other chemsex-focused activities under the SKPA-2 program. A chemsex training manual specifically tailored for key population communities – a joint effort between APCOM, Family Planning Association (FPA) Sri Lanka, Health Equity Matters, and Mainline – is underway and will complement a training-of-trainers program kickstarting in Sri Lanka this year.

Other upcoming activities also include a regional workshop on sexualized drug use, the development of a regional chemsex online resource center to cater to the needs of countries with challenging settings in Asia, and the creation of briefing notes on chemsex-related issues, covering drug interactions, safe practices, self-care (including mental health), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use, the effects of chemsex on transgender health, etc.

Acknowledging the lived experiences of those directly affected by chemsex is key to a successful response. These activities are designed with a community-centered perspective and will involve communities in every process, with the optimistic hope that they will serve as catalytic efforts to address the urgent need for chemsex interventions and support systems in the Asia region.

Published on: 04-Jul-2024

About the Contributor

Nicky Suwandi (He/Him/His)

Knowledge Management & Learning
APCOM, Thailand

Nicky led the demand generation initiatives during SKPA-1, and with his current position, he is aiming to facilitate discussions and promote cross-learning in the SKPA-2 project and beyond. In addition, his work is deeply rooted in creating meaningful changes for key population communities, specifically on HIV online interventions, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and sexualized drug use or chemsex. Hailing from Indonesia, he is equipped with a degree in communication studies, and have experience working in a national network for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women, which comprises more than 80 community-based organizations and support groups across the archipelago.

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