COVID-19 continues to threaten the gains made in the HIV response and has brought inequalities to the forefront, but civil society and community-based organizations in Asia and the Pacific have been quick to respond to the pandemic. From the start, networks of people living with HIV and key populations responded to the global health crisis by coming up with innovative courses of action.
A side event organized on the margins of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS showcased best practices of community-led responses to COVID-19 and HIV prevention in Asia and the Pacific.
It was noted that, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, key population networks have rapidly mobilized volunteers and partners to assist people affected by COVID-19, ensured the continuity of HIV services and found new ways to adapt to the new normal with online-based interventions.
For example, the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers responded to the pandemic by modifying its existing programmes to meet the urgent needs of the sex worker community, such as by reallocating funds to subsidize transport costs for sex workers living with HIV to ensure their access to HIV treatment services.
Other regional networks, such as the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV and Youth LEAD, established emergency relief funds to provide emergency food supplies, housing and rent, transport, protective gear, including personal protective equipment, masks, sanitizer and sanitary products for the most affected communities.
In several countries, community-led organizations of people who use drugs delivered door-to-door provisions of antiretroviral therapy and harm reduction services, including opioid substitution therapy and sterile needles and syringes. These experiences have been compiled by the Asia Pacific Network of People who Use Drugs in a best practice report to advocate for the full and equal participation of people who use drugs within the HIV response.
The panellists also heard about the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, which in its national and community-led responses has been supporting community-based HIV testing, working directly with clinics run by the community for the community. Also, APCOM, a regional network for gay men and other men who have sex with men based in Bangkok, Thailand, implemented a condom promotion campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic, known as #PartyPacks, where key populations can order online (for free) packages containing condoms, lubricant and information on harm reduction.
The speakers agreed that service delivery needs to be modernized, domestic investment should be increased and services led by key populations should be integrated into national health systems.
The panellists highlighted that dealing with the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19 requires working in unison and solidarity.