Bangkok, Thailand this week hosted the Regional Meeting on Community-based HIV Testing this week, with the summit ending today.
The Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) joined with other groups to hold the conference to highlight that health officials in the Asian region needed to do more to gather information on testing rates among at risk groups – particularly transgender women and men who have sex with men (MSM).
APCOM say many public health professionals are concerned by the large numbers of men who have sex with men and transgender people in Asia not accessing HIV testing and counseling, and are concerned there is little real data available on the scale of the problem, or the reasons behind it.
The groups estimate over half of the LGBTs living with HIV in Asia do not know they have the virus, with many only diagnosed once they are hospitalized.
Only 44 % of people in need in Asia had access to HIV treatments in 2011.
APCOM say having that sort of information would greatly increase future efforts at a regional and country level to ensure that demand for HIV testing is created in at-risk groups alongside the introduction of new testing delivery models that will better address those communities’ needs.
‘It is important that community voices are heard - they have to be central in creating demand and improving the take-up for these vital services and it is hoped this event will provide real insights into how this can be achieved,’ APCOM executive director Midnight Poonkasetwattana said ahead of the conference.
Coalition of Asia-Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS regional coordinator Malu S. Marin shared those concerns.
‘Many current testing models still have a lot to achieve in terms of reaching communities and enabling them access to testing services,’ Marin said.
‘However, in scaling up we should ensure the rights of people being tested, and that ethical guidelines are in place. Such issues will also be taken up in the consultation.’
APCOM pointed to a successful campaign in 2012 by Chinese LGBT group Guangzhou Tongzhi (GZTZ) as a way to improve testing which used the internet to mobilize 5,389 men who have sex with men to get tested for HIV - accounting for 83% of that city’s yearly total.
‘We know people reach HIV treatment, care, and the full range of prevention options through the gateway of HIV testing and counseling,’ Poonkasetwattana said.
‘Our colleagues in China at GZTZ highlighted to us how innovation, through the use of the Internet, could prove effect in scaling up HIV testing services amongst MSM. We hope this meeting with facilitate more sharing and learning on this important topic.’
Earlier this year APCOM released a report that showed transgender women were particularly at risk of HIV across the Asian region, with 49% of transgender people in Delhi, 37% in Phnom Penh, and 34% in Jakarta having contracted HIV.