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Be the Change: A Solidarity Speech

International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, Manila, Philippines, May 27, 2011

June 29, 2011

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Laurindo Garcia

Laurindo Garcia

The Philippines is one of the seven countries worldwide that is experiencing an alarming rise in HIV. The situation is made worse by the fact that the government is nowhere to be seen when it comes to investing in prevention, care, treatment and support services for the people who need it the most. To this day HIV services in the Philippines are heavily reliant on foreign aid.

Rising HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people is mirrored in other countries across Asia and worldwide. Similarly, lack of political will to address the growing problem also spans across national borders. Regardless of a country's economic status, gay, bisexual men, other MSM and transgender people are persistently denied of proper health, dignity and livelihood.

The main objective of this speech was to inspire action from within the community -- not just in the Philippines but everywhere -- and to seek support from others who believe that everyone has a right to health, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I am here today to bring greetings from the regional response to HIV. I am the coordinator for ISEAN (the Insular Southeast Asian Network for MSM, TG and HIV).

ISEAN is a regional network of community-based HIV organizations that provide services for men-who-have-sex-with-men (fondly known as MSM by some) and transgender people, covering the archipelago nations in our region.

I come with an update on the regional HIV epidemic and I unfortunately I am not the bearer of good news.

According to UNAIDS -- the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS -- when you look at the Asia Pacific HIV epidemic among the general population the trend is actually leveling off.

But there are variations in every country.

What we're seeing however is that HIV prevalence among MSM and transgender people is on the increase in a majority of Asian countries.


I've been traveling around the region recently, trying to build support for a multi-country initiative for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria to provide capacity-building for community systems. I won't go into that now, but do speak to me later if you'd like to find out about it.

In every capital city I've visited over the last month news has broken that infection rates among MSM have increased exponentially. I believe Manila is heading on the same direction.

So while we must acknowledge that the HIV virus itself does not discriminate and that there are other key affected populations at risk of HIV, the reality is that burden of HIV infection is felt heaviest among gay and bisexual men, other MSM and transgender people.

In 2008, the Commission on Aids in Asia warned that a new wave of infections was imminent, and that by 2020, fifty-percent of new infections will come from MSM and transgender populations.

But despite this grim news, the gay community, region wide, is suffering from what a friend of mine described as a "complicated relationship with omission."

Policy-makers know that HIV infection rates among gay and bisexual men are skyrocketing, and yet, countries in our region are omitting any mention of men-who-have-sex-with-men from their national strategies.

National governments in our region are failing to heed evidence and allocate budget lines for prevention, care, treatment and support services that target men-who-have-sex-with-men in annual spending -- and the Philippines is no exception.

It's as if the regional HIV response has stepped into a scene of Harry Potter movie and our policy makers are going around the halls of the ministry quietly referring to "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

How can we address the problem if we don't identify it in the first place?

I believe the situation is worse for the transgender community no recognition any in national statistics, let alone specialized services.

And yet, I've been told that HIV infection rates among transgender women are on track to be an explosive, yet hidden, epidemic.

Are we prepared for this?

Do our health systems have the capacity to deal with this situation?

Have we sufficient support structures to help the growing number of gay, bisexual and transgender people living with HIV to lead productive and happy lives?

How are we going to address the challenges faced by young gay and transgender people who face the prospect of living with HIV as they start their adult life?

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
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10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
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