Everyone Has the Right to Health

The right to health and dignity is something that each and every one of us is entitled to.

Yet, across the globe, transgender women have few employment options other than sex work; prisoners are held in appalling conditions that make HIV infection and tuberculosis rampant; undocumented migrant workers are deployed in remote areas and unable to defend themselves from malaria or sexually transmitted infections; and scores of young gay men live in communities that are ill-prepared to deal with a spike in new HIV infections, mental health issues and rising use of drugs like methamphetamine.

Achieving health for these groups is a major bone of contention for stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific HIV response. Tensions are rising because it is precisely in these marginalized groups where the burden of new HIV infections is highest. In order to solve these significant challenges, stakeholders and community organizations will be required to innovate.

But how can community organizations think "out of the box" if we don't invest in them? Sadly, many governments in our region do little to invest in the communities most at risk of HIV. One wonders whether these governments would be happier to just see us dead; I say "us" because I am a gay man from the Philippines who has been living with HIV for over nine years, and our government, like many others, seems to be sitting on its hands while scores of us are dying. Fortunately for "us," the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria does invest in human rights and supports programming that provides services and treatment to young men who have sex with men and transgender women among other affected but marginalized groups.

I am grateful for international donors, but the Global Fund alone is not enough.

This topic was hotly debated over the past week in Thailand at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP). I was in Bangkok joining fellow activists and colleagues to share data, exchange insights and most importantly, advocate strongly for meager AIDS funding to reach the people who need it most.

U.N. agencies have been urging governments and civil society to strive towards three goals: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2015. However when ICAAP 11 opened its doors, my fellow activists gathered under a different refrain. United by the Coalition of Asia Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS, we highlighted that combating "zero access to funding, zero legal reform and zero political will" is where collective community action should be directed. The coalition represents the anger and frustration of people living with HIV, sex workers, migrants, people who use drugs, transgender people, gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) from across the region.

As new HIV infections rise, activists are fuming over inertia from lawmakers and scarce resources to build resilient community-based organizations. This legal and economic reality collides against the optimism provided by science that makes a cure for HIV seem plausible within this generation. How can communities keep up with the science if we don't strengthen the communities themselves?

International donor support -- such as the Global Fund -- are a lifeline for people most at risk of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region. And I can't over-stress its importance, especially since the viability of the Global Fund itself hangs in the balance as we wait for news about its funding for the next three years at the upcoming pledging conference on Dec. 3. Since its inception in 2002, the Global Fund has saved the lives of 8.6 million people. It is because of the Global Fund that communities can cite three groundbreaking initiatives across Asia. First in South Asia where community-based sexual services are being set up for gay men, other MSM and transgender people in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where being of the "third gender" could lead to being killed.

Second is a project designed to help community-based HIV groups collect better data so they can hold governments in eight countries accountable for the quality of public health services.

Finally there is an initiative in four countries in Southeast Asia where organizations and leaders from the gay and transgender community receive training to better advocate for health and human rights. These projects supported by the Global Fund fill a gap that domestic governments would likely choose to ignore.

If it were not for international donors, human rights abuses among groups most at risk of HIV would be left off the agenda, and rates of preventable deaths would explode. While we can applaud some governments for increasing their direct investment in antiretroviral HIV treatment, a closer look under the financial microscope shows that domestic HIV investment in our region is flowing nowhere near the people who need treatment.

So it is clear that the Global Fund is not enough and we must keep fighting. Until the day that governments provide health for all its citizens and residents, without exception, and until the day that communities overcome the stranglehold of fear, shame or apathy and make their demands incontrovertible, there will always remain deadly inequities. As we wait for that day to come, the future of people like me in Asia and in the Pacific remains precarious. I can only hope that our generation and its leaders will stand on the right side of history.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, The Global Fund and (RED), in recognition of both World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) and the Global Fund's replenishment launch (taking place in Washington, D.C., December 2-3, where global leaders will determine how much money to allocate to the Global Fund over the next three years). The Global Fund is the Geneva-based financing organization that leads the fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. (RED) has to date raised $215 million, with 100 percent of that money going to the Global Fund to fund AIDS programs in Africa. To see all the other posts in this series, visit here. To help fight AIDS, check out the "DANCE (RED) SAVE LIVES 2" album here and watch the DANCE (RED) SAVE LIVES 2 livestream on World AIDS Day from Australia here on the Huffington Post.