"Raising our game, raising our voices": APCOM at AIDS 2014

The Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) called for a greater focus on the rapidly escalating HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender persons across Asia and the Pacific and seeking effective and innovative ways in which to address this challenge, at the XX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) which will be held in Melbourne, Australia during (July 20 to 25).

“For several years now, we have been drawing attention to the mounting crisis affecting our communities in our region,” noted Midnight Poonkasetwattana, APCOM Executive Director. “Two years ago at the IAC in Washington DC, and last year at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, we shared the progress we have made in addressing this crisis, as well as the numerous challenges that remain and how best we can address them in partnership with government, civil society, scientists and researchers, and the United Nations family -- the stakeholders who collectively form the coalition that is APCOM.”

Even before the IAC officially opens, APCOM will be strongly represented in several pre-conference meetings, including the one being organized by the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF), where APCOM will join the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) in discussing the rollout of the landmark MSM and Transgender Networks Capacity Strengthening Initiative Project which marks the first time the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has funded an HIV project specifically focusing on MSM and transgender populations.

APCOM’s Knowledge Reference Group, comprising of key researchers and academics who focus on MSM and transgender HIV-related research across Asia and the Pacific, has supported a number of important studies and initiatives in recent years, some of which will be presented in Melbourne including “Pulling Together Community, Building Diversity, Achieving Sustainability for HIV Counselling and Testing.” 

“The need to rapidly increase access to HIV and STI testing for MSM and transgender communities, including in key urban centres where the infection rates are alarmingly high but many individuals remain unaware of their HIV status, remains a key focus for APCOM,” said Dédé Oetomo, APCOM Chair. “Our high-profile Test BKK campaign in the Thai capital over the past three months, which is aimed especially at younger MSM, will be featured and discussed at the IAC as a particularly good example of how catchy video and the strategic use of social media can reach wide audiences and propel behaviour change.”

APCOM has long partnered with UN agencies to advocate with governments and policy makers to place MSM HIV issues higher on the health and development agenda.  As the World Health Organization prepares to formally launch its 2014 Consolidated Guidelines for HIV prevention, Diagnosis, treatment and Care for Key Populations in Asia Pacific at the IAC, APCOM is poised to serve as a key partner to help with the roll-out of these guidelines via its civil society partners across APCOM’s sub-regions.  APCOM’s strategic role in this effort will be discussed in Melbourne as well.

Ultimately, however, despite the very real medical and scientific progress that is being made to more effectively prevent, diagnose and treat HIV, stigma and discrimination constantly undermine these remarkable efforts. Realizing this, and recognizing the need to reach out to multiple segments of society to help destigmatize HIV, APCOM is strengthening its own efforts to work with a range of societal leaders and influencers, including faith leaders and faith-based organizations. In Melbourne, APCOM is partnering with the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+) and the Asian Interfaith Network on HIV and AIDS (AINA) to host a satellite session, Faith, Compassion and Acceptance: Addressing Homophobia and HIV-related Stigma through Scripture and Spirituality.

“Issues of faith and spirituality are so very personal, impacting all of humanity including MSM and transgender populations,” explained Roy Wadia, APCOM Vice Chair. “And yet, in this day and age, we are witnessing what seems to be an ever-growing backlash against our communities by so many governments, often instigated by religious institutions.  But there are many faith leaders and organizations who are our allies, and who can in turn sensitize their peers.  We must seize all opportunities available to do so.  APCOM’s partnership with INERELA+ and AINA gives us a pulpit for action.”

“In Melbourne, we are reflecting the theme of our 2014-2019 Strategic Plan -- raising our game, raising our voices,” concluded Poonkasetwattana.  “We are constantly working to help ensure that when it comes to our communities of concern, in keeping with the pledge of the 20th IAC, ‘nobody is left behind’.  We invite delegates flocking to Melbourne to join APCOM in our crucial work now and in the future.”

Citizen News Service (CNS)
18 July 2014