Friday, August 07, 2009

MSMs and transgender tackle HIV-AIDS issue

HIV infections are on the rise in the Philippines, with 85 new infections registered in May 2009 alone. This is the highest reported in a month, and brings the total for 2009 (January to May) to 322. Most of these cases (88%) were men, with the 20-24 year age group reporting the most cases (29%). Fifty-seven percent of the reported cases came from the National Capital Region (NCR). All cases reported sexual contact as the mode of HIV transmission, with homosexual contact (36%) as predominant.

The other populations at risk from HIV-AIDS include female sex workers and their male clients and injecting drug users. The vulnerable populations of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), out-of-school youth, and street children are also at high risk, and require comprehensive and targeted programmes as well. In 2007, an estimated 7,490 people were living with HIV, up from the estimated 6,000 in 2002.

All the main ingredients for an epidemic are present in the country. First, HIV transmission through unprotected sex accounts for 89% of reported cases. Second, condom use among the most at-risk populations remains below the universal access target of 90%.

Given this situation, the Government of the Philippines and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a three-year programme entitled “Promoting Leadership and Mitigating the Negative Impacts of HIV and AIDS on Human Development.” Its first project is the 1st National Conference on HIV-AIDS by Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) and Transgender Filipinos, being held July 23-24 at Greenhills Elan Hotel.

This project will define the profile of MSM and transgender Filipinos as well as their changing behaviors. It will also map and assess existing programs, and recommend advocacy strategies and cost. It will further pilot-test these strategies to scale up the national MSM response, including involvement in shaping of policy.

Renaud Meyer, the Country Director of UNDP, said: “This programme demonstrates UNDP’s commitment to contribute to the global response to combat AIDS, which is embodied in Goal 6 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – to reverse and halt the spread of HIV-AIDS and other diseases. Our overall goal is to support improved human development outcomes and contribute to the attainment of the goals of the Philippines’ national AIDS response through comprehensive leadership programmes. This project – which aims to develop the capacity of MSMs and transgender Filipinos as well as their organizations – is a significant step in this direction.”

The national conference fulfills two of the five components of the UNDP programme. These are to provide strategic information and community leadership among MSM and transgender Filipinos, as well as provide knowledge, community, and advocacy to promote a deeper understanding of HIV and AIDS. The three other components of the programme are:

*Leadership for effective and sustained responses to HIV and AIDS;
*Strengthening institutional capacities and partnerships on HIV and migration; and
*Mitigating the economic and psycho-social impacts of HIV and AIDS.

For this programme, the UNDP is working closely with relevant Government agencies such as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective, Inc. (TLF SHARE), Health Action Information Network (HAIN), and the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC).

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