APCOM and The Poz Home Center have been co-chairing a coalition of 15 LGBTQI groups from all over Thailand since April 2020, on issues and challenges arising from Covid-19; exploring solutions together, fundraising together, collecting data together, and generally supporting each other through the fortnightly solidarity Zoom calls.
A hot topic as Thailand is going through a third wave, was the lack of vaccine access as the number of new Covid-19 cases exceeded 2,000 per day, causing questions about how vaccines in Thailand will be distributed, and will our communities working on LGBTQI issues have fair access?
On 1st May t 2021, to mark International Labour Day, the coalition hosted an online webinar “COVID-19 accessibility for all”. The purpose of this webinar was to raise awareness about the challenges and situations that LGBTQI communities are facing during the COVID-19 third outbreak. The webinar reflected on their needs and voices with a view for the general population to get a better understanding of a different reality for many LGBTQI people, and to develop recommendations and plans for vaccination programmes for everyone.
The speakers were from the LGBTQI coalition were APCOM, Bangkok Rainbow, HON, the Poz Home Center, Sangsan Anakot Yawachon, and SWING. We all come from LGBTQI orgnisations that support various rights for the community such as, women, sex workers, people living with HIV, stateless indigenous people, and migrants.
Recommendations from the webinar were:
- Everyone in Thailand must have access to COVID-19 vaccines that are safe and of high quality in a fair and quick manner, regardless of their legal status in Thailand and there should be no restrictions if a person does not hold Thai national ID.
- The government must be consultative and provide space for opinions and suggestions from communities, civil society, community-based organisations and businesses, and provide reliable information on the rolling out of Covid-19 vaccines, with involvement from the community.
- Community-based organisations must be supported and sustained in order to provide essential services and reach the most marginalised, and should be a key partner in the vaccine roll out.
What do people think of Covid-19 vaccination?
Prior to the webinar, a survey was conducted to get some thoughts on what the general population think about the Thai national vaccination programme. A total of 152 people responded, mostly from Bangkok metropolitan area (60.5 per cent) and heterosexual (57.9 per cent). Most of the respondents were worried about the vaccination programme (83.6 per cent) and 39.5 per cent were extremely worried. Moreover, most of the respondents were not confident in the safety of the vaccines provided by the government (63.8 per cent). However, most of the respondents wanted the vaccines (63.1 per cent), and most would gladly pay for a vaccine, if given the choice of choosing a brand (58.5 per cent).
More than half of the respondents were worried about the side effects of the vaccines (58.6 per cent, and 20.4 per cent were concerned about the quality of the vaccines, (as well as the efficacy rate (14.5 per cent, and only 2.6 per cent of the respondents didn’t have any worries about the government vaccination programme. Lastly, most of the respondents wanted Pfizer-BioNTech as their vaccine, and only 2.6 per cent wants Sinovac vaccine, which is available vaccines as of now.
Situations, reflection, needs and suggestions for the availability for COVID-19: Khormoon, a reflection from the community
Kasintorn from APCOM presented information on the effect of COVID-19 on key populations from the Khormoon project: peer-led data collection with eight LGBTQI groups in Thailand on the effects of Covid-19 on their local communities. The respondents in the survey consist of men who have sex with men, transgender, sex workers, migrants, and people living with HIV. The survey has 1,430 respondents, 838 are living with HIV and the majority identify as LGBTQI (81.61 per cent).
The data revealed that almost half of the respondents were unemployed, compared to the National Statistical Office Thailand statistics of the current general unemployment rate which stands at 1-2 per cent from the 2020 lockdown. Most respondents (93.08 per cent) had their income impacted, but more than half of the respondents did not receive any government financial aid.
People living with HIV have problems in accessing HIV services, such as testing, treatment and prevention during lockdown, receiving ART outside their designated medical facility which, combined, affect the mental health of PLHIV.
Kasintorn stressed the importance of a comprehensive vaccination programmes to take people out of their confined spaces so that economic and livelihood activities can resume, and to help provide some e certainties and reduce negative mental health and stress.
“Without communities working on LGBTQI issues at country and regional levels, our issues will not be heard, and action won’t be taken. Our communities all over Asia and the Pacific must be supported as we are reaching the most marginalised, and vaccines must be made readily available and accessible.”Midnight, APCOM Executive Director
Sex workers: A forgotten Community
Sex work, one of the important occupations that brings in a lot of funding to the Thai economy, is experiencing a very tough time. Thailand’s important revenue come from tourism and the entertainment sector, where sex workers are heavily involved, and yet are not accepted as a recognised work force as sex work remains l illegal in Thailand – thus sex workers do not have any social safety nets to fall back on. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ceasar, a staff-member from SWING, explained that e sex workers are being neglected, and that entertainment centres are the first places to shut down and the last places to re-open,whenever there is a COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, sex workers will instantaneously become unemployed and experience hardship. As Thailand is going through a third wave, some sex workers have become homeless from loss of income.
A view from people living with HIV
Somchai, who lives with HIV from the Poz Home Center, also stressed the economic impact on wider society including for people living with HIV. Without jobs and economic prospects for a steady income, and the government being unable to provide fair compensation packages, the vaccination programme is likely to deepen the inequity and inequality in our society.
On the borders: Stateless indigenous people
Another group of people that are affected by COVID-19 and the skirmishes along the Thai-Myanmar-Karen states, are the stateless indigenous people. Matcha, Executive Director of Sangsan Anakot Yawachon and coordinator at V-Day Thailand, an activist on indigenous rights and sexual equality, shared that indigenous people are being marginalised and mistreated economically, socially, politically and culturally. Indigenous people who have different backgrounds, are not able to access information, are not being protected under Thai law and are being mistreated.
The issues that indigenous people are facing is not just Covid-19 related, but also compounded by the skirmishes between the Karen force and the Myanmar military force, making their livelihoods become harder and forcing them to move out of their community to a shelter.
Voices from people working for the community
Thissadee, Executive Director of HON, stressed the importance of front line workers in community-based organisations . Front line workers are the first to contact key populations, and yet were not considered as a first priority in the vaccination programme, as they are not regarded as qualified medical workers. She raised concerns that the government lockdown does not take into account those that are not able to work, – and are left behind to fight for their own survivals. During these times, there should be more involvement with the community on how policies are going to be written, implemented and what subsidisation will look like. Without this involvement, the most vulnerable and marginalised population will always be neglected.
APCOM would like to say a big thank you to:
- Matcha Phorn-in, Founder and Executive Director – Sangsan Anakot Yawachon
- Nikorn Chimkong, President – Bangkok Rainbow Organisation (BRO)
- Noppanai Ruthiwong (Ceasar), Communications and Transgender Project Manager – SWING
- Somchai Promsombut, Executive Director – The Poz Home Center
- Thissadee Sawangying, Executive Director – HON House Pattaya