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Greetings from Yangon! Our capacity building and advocacy work has been “full steam ahead” over these past three months, and I’m excited to share highlights of our progress.
Building on our community-led research project on discrimination in healthcare settings in Cambodia, China, Myanmar, and Vietnam, we held advocacy follow-up workshops with local groups and key stakeholders in Cambodia and Myanmar. In China, we conducted organizational management and advocacy coaching and training workshops for a wide range of advocates working on LGBT, youth, disability, and HIV issues. We organized efforts to address the problem of law enforcement practices undermining public health goals, and released our report on police use of “condoms as evidence” of prostitution in China, based on testimony from 517 female, male, and transgender sex workers in 3 major cities. We will bring together Chinese and Vietnamese sex worker advocates, scholars, and lawyers to discuss strategies to abolish the custody and education system, learning from real-world success stories to close unlawful, ineffective detention centers.
In July, Asia Catalyst sent Gareth Durrant, Director of Partnerships and Programs, to the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Durban, South Africa. In the blog post below, Gareth explains Asia Catalyst’s historical involvement in the conference, offers personal highlights and reflections from his trip, and gives us a glimpse into what Asia Catalyst is hoping to bring to IAC in 2018.
In August, Asia Catalyst delivered a workshop in Cambodia in collaboration with ARV Users Association (AUA) and the Cambodian Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDS (CCW). AUA and CCW presented findings from their previous documentation work on discrimination in healthcare settings and together engaged healthcare providers to discuss ways of these addressing issues. We are delighted to feature AUA in this newsletter’s Partner Profile.
Thank you for your ongoing support. I look forward to reporting back later this year on our Transgender Leadership Project in China, cross-sector rights training and coalition-building activities for Thai activists, capacity-building collaborations with HIV and sex work network leaders in Myanmar, our special World AIDS Day event in Hong Kong, and much more!
Partner Profile: ARV Users Association
ARV Users Association (AUA) is a Cambodian community-based organization (CBO) founded in 2002 by a small group of people living with HIV (PLHIV). Almost 15 years on, AUA continues as a member-led association. Approximately 85% of current staff members are living with HIV. AUA works alongside healthcare providers in seven hospitals and clinics and two correctional centers in Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham. AUA facilitates care, treatment and counseling for PLHIV and key populations (KP) and advocates for quality healthcare and human rights. AUA has more than 2,000 members and currently supports more than 7,000 patients.
Acting as a link between PLHIV, civil society, and the government sector, AUA plays an important role in coordinating different stakeholders to ensure the response to HIV in Cambodia remains patient-oriented. AUA is recognized by the World Health Organization, Cambodia’s National AIDS Authority, and UNAIDS for its expertise and vital role in Cambodia’s National Antiretroviral Program, and has been invited to engage in the frontline response to HIV outbreaks.
In recent years, AUA has sharpened its focus on right to health advocacy as a way to combat stigma and discrimination against PLHIV/KPs. A major milestone for AUA came with its acceptance into Asia Catalyst’s first Regional Rights Training program in 2015. Since attending the initial workshops, AUA staff have partnered with the Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (CCW) to conduct research into discrimination against women living with HIV (WLHIV). Research findings published in the resulting report, First Do No Harm: Discrimination in Healthcare Settings Against People Living with HIV in Cambodia, China, Myanmar and Viet Nam, indicate that WLHIV in Cambodia are denied critical medically-accurate information that would enable them to make informed decisions on whether and when to have children without violating their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Based on findings from the “First do no harm” project, AUA formulated an advocacy to reduce stigma and discrimination among PLHIV through capacity building on human rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, and HIV/AIDS law for healthcare providers, PLHIV, KPs, local authorities, nongovernmental organization partners, and other relevant stakeholders. AUA operationalized their plan through internal staff trainings; healthcare provider advocacy workshops, group meetings with community beneficiaries, a research findings report-back workshop, and PLHIV rights group discussions at various clinic sites. The final workshop series, held in early 2016, attracted 254 participants and was made possible with funding from USAID and technical support from Asia Catalyst. Participants in these discussions stated that they significantly improved their understanding of the issues faced by PLHIV, men who have sex with men, and entertainment workers. As a result, local authorities (including commune leaders and police) committed to understanding the issues and concerns of PLHIV and KPs and give them due attention. Strong alliances formed with the National AIDS Authority and the Provincial Health Department of the Ministry of Health are helping to further AUA’s advocacy objectives.
AUA has successfully managed to transform its human rights documentation project into meaningful advocacy with positive outcomes in creating a productive dialogue between community members, service providers, and government officials and policymakers. AUA plans to continue its work in human rights advocacy by conducting PLHIV rights group discussions in other provinces, pursuing training opportunities for service providers, and organizing group discussions between PLHIV and the relevant authorities to end discrimination in healthcare settings.
Event Spotlight: Asia Catalyst at International AIDS Conference 2016: Not Just Another Voice at the Microphone
by Gareth Durrant
There is nothing quite like the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in terms of scale. Fifteen thousand attendees from around the world participated this year; many of whom, like me, were clocking 15-20 hour days and still only scratching the surface of all that was on offer.
It was an immense privilege to be involved. For me personally, IAC is an opportunity to network with the world’s most innovative and fearless HIV and human rights practitioners. It is a chance to learn from public health rock stars who share their latest research and connect with other program managers to discuss examples of successful as well as failed interventions from around the world.
For Asia Catalyst as an organization, there are several reasons why we stay involved:
It is a big deal — The first IAC was held in the US in 1985, and has evolved into the major global gathering to coordinate and mobilize the global response to HIV/AIDS. The event is attended by local and international health professionals, political leaders, people living with HIV and community representatives.
Each year, in addition to the official plenaries, there are community-led panel discussions, debates, and presentations that take place at the ‘Global Village.’ The Global Village includes networking zones for priority populations and is a vibrant space where communities from all over the work gather to meet, share, and learn from each other.
The issues we care about can take center stage — Asia Catalyst has been involved in every IAC since 2010. Historically, these events have been an opportunity to showcase our work and advance our advocacy goals; for example, in 2010 in Vienna, we delivered a training workshop, Best Practices in Documenting Human Rights Abuses. In 2012 in Washington, DC, AC delivered a series of workshops, roundtables, and presentations on HIV and human rights in Asia.
In Durban, I spoke on law enforcement actions and its impact on sex workers at the Pre- Conference on Challenging Criminalization Globally, hosted by Ford Foundation in partnership with AIDS Accountability International. I attend a round table on enhancing partnerships between law enforcement, criminal justice, and HIV programs working with key populations organized by the International AIDS Society.
These events, coupled with a poster presentation, gave us a platform to present Asia Catalyst’s latest report, The Condom Quandary: A Survey of the Impact of Law Enforcement Practices on Effective HIV Prevention among Female, Male and Transgender Sex Workers in China.
To support our partners – Ultimately, the most important role Asia Catalyst plays at IAC is to amplify grassroots voices by facilitating conversations between our partners and public officials and regional and international allies. These connections can be extremely difficult to establish back home, as grassroots organizations are often relegated to peripheral or highly controlled spaces.
For example, at IAC 2014 in Melbourne, Asia Catalyst presented preliminary findings from a transgender rights project and report, My Life is too Dark to see the Light: A Survey of the Living Conditions of Transgender Female Sex Workers in Beijing and Shanghai. We arranged for the two sex workers to meet with the UNAIDS Bangkok regional focal point and UNFPA. The Chinese delegates were able to build a relationship with these UN agencies, share their priority advocacy issues on behalf of the communities they represent, and propose concrete recommendations to the UN.
Also, in the lead-up to this year’s IAC in Durban, our partner, the Myanmar Positive Group National Network of PLHIV (MPG), was invited to present a poster of their findings reported in First Do No Harm: Discrimination in Healthcare Settings Against People Living with HIV. Asia Catalyst had worked closely with MPG to draft and submit the abstract and prepare the poster.
Our Chinese partners were also well represented in Durban this year. Asia Catalyst supported Yang Shi, a LGBTQ youth advocate and founder of the China LGBT Youth Network, to navigate the intense conference structure and draft interventions calling on concrete funding commitments to address the rising HIV epidemic amongst LGBTQ youth in China at a session organized by the Chinese Association of STD/AIDS Prevention and Control. In addition, two individuals from our Regional Rights Training program, Liu Yan and Ma Tiecheng from the Consultation Centre from China, received scholarships to participate.
The 22nd International AIDS Conference will be held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2018. It will be another opportunity for me to re-connect with peers, re-energize, and re-dedicate myself to fighting the HIV epidemic. We commit again to being a voice of support for CBO-led advocacy, rather than just another voice at the microphone – and to using this global platform to promote the work of our partners and demand accountability – of ourselves as well as of those obligated to uphold human rights.