Yesterday, May 6, I attended the launch of a new HIV/AIDS response program being co-sponsored by the Government of the Philippines (GOP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at the Renaissance Hotel in Makati City. The new program seeks to strengthen national and local responses to HIV/AIDS and mitigate the disease's impact on human development. The GOP and UNDP have earmarked a little over a million dollars for this new three-year program and the money will be used to: a)develop an effective, sustained and comprehensive leadership program in response to HIV and AIDS; b) strengthen the capacities of government, NGOs and people living with HIV (PLHIV); c) implement HIV prevention intervention among most at-risk populations (MARPs) and identified vulnerable populations; and d) develop and disseminate information for these vulnerable groups.
According to the representative of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) at the launch, the Philippines is considered a low HIV prevalence country. In fact in 2007, the number of PLHIV in the Philippines was less than eight thousand. However, those who do HIV/AIDS work have noted an alarming trend of new infections from 20 new cases monthly in 2000 to 44 new ones per month in 2008. In January 2009, there were 65 reported new cases of HIV/AIDS infections.
The reason why we went to the launch was because the UNDP has been trying to get in touch with transgender community organizations doing HIV work. As of today, only one group for transpeople in Cebu, called the Tonette Lopez Project (TLP), is involved in HIV/AIDS work.
When I spoke to the UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer (in the picture with us above), he asked me if any transgroup had direct involvement in their new program. The UNDP has identified the trans community as one of their MARPs and one of the components of this new program is to build the capacity of trans groups responding to HIV/AIDS. I told him that no transgroup had key role in their program but that they should get in touch with TLP if they want to target the trans population. I just emailed a Trans 101 presentation to one of the officers of TLP, Peachy Rivera, who is getting ready for a workshop designed exclusively for trans female participants next week.
I am not well-conversant in HIV/AIDS advocacy but I am aware that it uses the men- who-have-sex-with-men (MSM)framework to describe trans women. In fact the presenter from PNAC would always say MSM and TG. This is something that I feel needs to be urgently addressed by those who are involved in this kind of work because I feel that lumping female-identified trans people together with MSMs disrespects their gender identity and invisibilizes the need for a trans-specific response to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. For now, I know that there are many transgender rights activists around the world who work in MSM groups because those are the only existing HIV/AIDS organizations in their countries with access to badly needed resources. But I also know these brave trans women are beginning to interrogate within these groups the MSM label used to identify them.
Let's hope that this new UNDP program will deliver on its promise and I really hope we do not see here HIV/AIDS ravaging the trans community.