AIDS 2018 CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS FOR ASIA PACIFIC
Asia Pacific Strategic Priorities
One of the biggest concerns for the Asia Pacific region related to key populations being left behind in the HIV responses of countries that are transitioning out of international donor support, such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. The criminalization of homosexuality in many countries and its impact on the HIV response was also a key concern. Many delegates spoke of the need to take a less antagonistic and more pragmatic and nuanced approach with national governments and show how community-based responses can value add to health outcomes. The use of strategic information, research and evidence was consistently highlighted as essential to effective advocacy.
Implementing PrEP at scale was a major issue at AIDS 2018. Of particular interest, Thailand is scaling up PrEP among higher risk groups in high burden provinces. PrEP is now a core part of the combination prevention package in the national response to HIV. Thailand is in the process of including PrEP as part of the benefits package under the national universal healthcare system. Delegates from Vietnam also reported that PrEP scale-up is underway following a successful trial which began last year.
APCOM launched PrEPMAP website during the conference
Delegates from Africa highlighted the importance of educating policymakers, funders, government ministries and pharmaceutical companies about the benefits of scaling up PrEP access. Given the cost issues, they also suggested advocating for event driven use (intermittent dosing) rather than ongoing use which can be cost prohibitive for many governments.
There was a lot of discussion about the absence of disaggregated data at the country level. This was highlighted during an Asia-Pacific session hosted by UNAIDS. There was support for community-led initiatives in gathering disaggregated data – in partnership with other stakeholders – that will support national programming/complement or supplement IBBS or IHBSS.
APCOM Executive Director Midnight Poonkasetwattana and members of the HIV Testing Services Technical Working Group
Some data sets that were identified as being needed are disaggregation by key population, access to testing, access to treatment, drug use and access to harm reduction programs.
A key theme around HIV financing was that HIV program investment should target the most affected communities among key populations, and that investments should include core funding for community organisations, not just programmatic interventions.
APCOM session on HIV financing in the conference
There was also discussion of the value of collaborative multi-stakeholder engagement, the role of strategic information/research as the cornerstone of advocacy, and the value of community ownership/self-determination in tackling a technical sector such as health financing.
There was considerable discussion about sustainability issues for community organisations. Key population groups highlighted the need to be able to access core funding and there were calls in a range of sessions for international development agencies to increase investment in civil society and community-based organisations.
The presence and participation of young people was strong throughout AIDS2018, from the global village, to Youth HQ, to the enormous number of presentations and posters by young researchers and community advocates. New HIV infections are rising in young people in many countries in the region. Foci included innovations in HIV service delivery for young key populations to ground breaking programs and campaigns by and for young people. Prince Harry reinforced the role of young people in ending the HIV epidemic, and the importance of empowering young advocates and organisations.