In September 2014, APCOM conducted the region’s pioneer dialogue exploring the roll out of PrEP in Asia and the Pacific called PrEParing Asia. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is an HIV prevention approach where HIV-negative individuals use HIV medication to significantly reduce their risk of becoming infected if they are exposed to the virus. A common brand of medication used for PrEP is called Truvada. Several PrEP advocates who support the addition of PrEP in the HIV prevention tool attended the dialogue. Among the attendees were representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, supported by the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme (MSA), which is based at the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub.
Following the Dialogue, these PrEP advocates committed themselves to conduct follow up actions to promote PrEP to their peers – in and/or outside their own hometowns. While some of these initiatives were taken on a small scale, some advocates were ambitious and opted for large scale projects.
Under the umbrella of the Naz Male Health Alliance in Pakistan, Tamzil Rehman conducted and facilitated advocacy sessions on PrEP under their behaviour change communication training program for outreach workers. In October, these sessions took place in various cities in Pakistan targeting different community members. Sessions were conducted in Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana and Rawalpindi with 10 to 50 community members attending each session. A session about PrEP was also conducted on World AIDS Day 2015 in five different cities of Pakistan. A total of 300 Pakistani were reached out within the session.
Another remarkable PrEP awareness in Pakistan came under Sarmad Ali’s leadership. Through his active membership in Youth Parliament of Pakistan in six different Districts of Sindh province, three PrEP awareness discussion with a total of 90 attendants had been conducted. The discussions engaged civil society members, stakeholders, political party representative’s, youth members, LGBTQI rights activists, students, community leaders as well as human right activists.
Mohammad Rofiqul Islam, a PrEP advocate from Bangladesh set out to share his experiences and what he learnt from the Dialogue to his counterparts in Bangladesh in order to successfully advocate for PrEP in his hometown Dhaka. He dedicated the entire month of October to meeting with various stakeholders and partners and engaging in other activities to promote the use of PrEP. During this time he arranged a discussion with 27 staffs of Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS) who work towards the health improvement of the MSM and Hijra community in Bangladesh as well as a learning session under the BSWS’ Sexuality and Sexuality Resource Centre attended by 16 participants. Within the sessions, the drug was introduced and the discussions relating the cost, side effects, drug resistance and its limitations followed. Rofiqul made recommendations to BSWS on how they could assist in advocating for PrEP. Five variations of posters in Bengali were also created for circulation online in order to spread the awareness of PrEP.
WATCH: what PrEP advocates think about PrEP
Kumar Shetty from India followed closely along and conducted a half day PrEP workshop with health providers and fellow community members at the office of Greater Action for Unity Rights Advocacy and Visibility (Gaurav) – a community based organisation that supports the sexual minorities in India. What is PrEP, how to use PrEP and the availability and accessibility of PrEP in India were some of the topics discussed at the workshop held in Mumbai. Two other workshops of the same kind were conducted in Aurangabad and Nagpur districts of India.
Although some PrEP advocates have already begun working to promote the drug, some advocacy plans are more elaborate and will stretch on into the New Year. In November of 2015, Suman Nepal from Nepal shared the PrEP consultation with the National Centre for AIDS and STD control. Another passionate PrEP advocate from Nepal, Bharat Man has taken it upon himself to advocate about the need and necessity of PrEP among the MSM community. He aims to influence national level policy makers to include PrEP in the upcoming National HIV Strategic Plan (NHSP, 2016-2021).
At the writing of this article, the number of community members educated by PrEParing Asia’s PrEP advocates’ programmes subsequent to the dialogue has reached to 475 individuals across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. See the breakdown below for further details.
These enthusiastic and ambitious advocates from all around the region have set out on a contribution to end the epidemic by 2030. They prove to us that a young spirit, determination and the skill of advocacy can make the end of epidemic a reality. APCOM salutes our PrEP advocates for the work that they have done and continue to do. With admirable members like these, we are sure no one will get left behind in the fight against HIV.