Apcom executive director Midnight Poonkassetwattana
Apcom executive director Midnight Poonkassetwattana

A spotlight on HIV

event September 06, 2017 14:30

By The Nation

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Bangkok is set to host the Rights, Resources and Resilience Asia Pacific summit (RRRAP) in November where up to 300 HIV and community health advocates from across Asia and the Pacific will recalibrate their strategies to tackle the region’s HIV epidemic and its impact on vulnerable communities.

The three-day summit, which gets underway at the Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel on November 13, will be followed by two days of community seminars and strategic planning. The summit will also be preceded by the HERO Awards, a special fundraising gala honouring heroes of the Asia Pacific response to HIV/AIDS and the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The RRRAP Summit is an initiative of Apcom, a leading regional HIV and LGBT community network which this year is marking 10 years of service to the communities it works with across Asia and the Pacific. Apcom was established in 2007 following the Risks & Responsibilities Summit in India in 2006, which was convened to help deliver a more coordinated regional response to the impact of HIV on men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.

Apcom executive director Midnight Poonkassetwattana says while much progress has been made since then, the HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific continues to escalate among these vulnerable communities, with MSM set to account for more than half of the 300,000 new HIV transmissions that researchers estimate will occur annually in the region by 2020.

“MSM and transgender communities in Asia and the Pacific are hugely affected by HIV,“ he says.

“About one in three MSM in cities such as Bangkok and Jakarta are HIV positive. In the Philippines, more than 80 per cent of new transmissions are among MSM. In some cities in India, up to half of the transgender populations are living with HIV.

“Against any measure, it’s completely unacceptable that we’re seeing these levels of HIV transmission among these communities. If we’re going to meet the UNAids target of ending HIV in our region by 2030, we need to reconsider our approach and navigate a viable course for the next 10 years that will move Asia and the Pacific closer to a sustainable future that’s free of HIV and inclusive of all sexualities and gender identities. This is what the RRRAP Summit is all about.”

Apcom Regional Advisory Committee chair Dede Oetomo says the summit will feature a future focused agenda of exploration, evaluation and inspiration across a broad range of issues affecting the health and rights of MSM and transgender communities.

“I was at the first summit in 2006 and sadly many of the issues that were identified 10 years ago are still issues today,” Oetomo says. “For example, the violence, stigma and discrimination that is felt by many LGBT and HIV-positive communities across Asia and the Pacific remains a huge barrier to providing effective care and support.

“Other problems include low levels of HIV education, limited access to services and treatment, and increasing levels of substance use among MSM and transgender populations. Lack of engagement among governments across the region and shrinking international aid budgets are also significant concerns. However, there are also many opportunities that can help us improve our response such as new prevention, treatment and testing technologies, new digital education, advocacy and communication platforms, and new partnerships with service providers, researchers and civil society.

“To move forward we need to engage with all these issues on a regional level and the RRRAP Summit provides exactly that – a once in a generation opportunity for members, stakeholders and influencers of the Asia-Pacific HIV, LGBT and human rights sectors to focus their knowledge, skills and networks on reinvigorating our vital mission here in the region.”

Following the summit, APCOM will develop a comprehensive regional plan to help deliver a more effective response to the needs and priorities identified by the participants.

Full details of the agenda and guest speakers will be released in early October. To get updates and/or register for the summit, visit www.apcom.org/RRRAP.

 Community members, researchers, policy makers and health workers are invited to contribute to the summit agenda by suggesting content and presenters for sessions. Suggestions can be sent to: RRRAP@apcom.org.