Midnight Poonkasetwattana: Time for Major Roll Out, at Scale

Midnight Poonkasetwattana
Midnight Poonkasetwattana is executive director of APCOM, based in Bangkok, Thailand advocating on issues that affect the lives of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and transgender people including HIV, rights, health and well- being. Midnight particularly enjoys working with community groups and civil society organisations to strengthen their organisation capacity to better promote the health and rights of gender and sexual minorities in the region. He was recently named one of the HIV advocates to watch for in 2016 by longtime activist and award-winning blogger Mark S. King.

What got you involved in the AIDS movement and particularly around PrEP advocacy?

On a personal level as a gay guy, the AIDS movement gives the sense of the community -- tackling complex issues from strengthening civil society, human rights, health and access. I believe that a strong community-led response needs the right investment that will sustain our work. And PrEP does invigorate the discussion around the role of community. PrEP is an additional prevention option that needs to be made available at scale for gay men and MSM who can benefit from it. For me it opens up the discussion about prevention spending in general for gay men and MSM, which is in no way commensurate with the needs, especially in the Asia Pacific region.

What is an example of PrEP advocacy work you have engaged in recently? Is there a particular tactic or approach you have used in your advocacy that you can share?

With the support of many stakeholders including UNAIDS, WHO, FHI360 LINKAGES, UNICEF, Global Fund and UNDP, APCOM was able to lead the first community-led regional consultation on PrEP in Asia bringing in over 120 participants from the community, service providers, government and development partners to learn from global and regional experts on PrEP and, crucially, how to have the same kinds of discussions at the country level. APCOM has developed a number of resources on PrEP and MSM, including PrEP 101 and materials for the regional dialogue, PrEPARING Asia: A new direction for HIV prevention among MSM in Asia.

From your perspective, what are the top priorities for PrEP advocacy to advance an accelerated, more equitable response to AIDS?

From the regional meeting, the community first needs to be made aware of PrEP and their education on it is really important. Information needs to be translated into local languages, and service providers and government need to also be made aware. Some small pilot research in the region has begun, but what we really need is to have a big roll out -- at scale. The window of opportunity is not big and we have to program this NOW.

What concerns you about expanded PrEP use?

PrEP needs to be integrated with service provision. Testing needs to made easier and more friendly; and community screening can help in the process. It does mean more regular testing for HIV and also for STI testing services. If PrEP programs are not made available, what concerns me is that gay men and other MSM may choose to access PrEP through some other means. Also we need to ensure low prices for the drugs so all can have access to them.

If you were speaking to a young advocate interested in HIV and AIDS advocacy, what would you advise her/him about how to be effective?

APCOM supports lots of young advocates, in fact it is in our current strategy. They have the knowledge and experiences that are crucial to the HIV/AIDS response particularly in making sure that services are responsive and up to date. Programs do need to listen and heed the advice of young people, as they are, after all, going to lead the movement in the future.