Make Your Voice Count

Integrating the duality of digitalization and community outreach to enhance the provision of HIV services: Tan Fok Jun, Malaysia

By Tharindi Devasurendra – Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Tan Fok Jun (Jeremy) is a young human rights activist from Malaysia. He currently works as the Youth Representative for Malaysia’s Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism and has previously worked with the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia. Jeremy is passionate about promoting the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community, sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR),  health promotion, and ensuring young people’s access to HIV prevention and treatment.

As part of his work, and together with other youth groups, Jeremy created a WhatsApp group for young people to reach out and seek information on COVID-19-related news, in particular, how the pandemic has impacted their access to HIV and SRH services. This online platform allowed young people living with and affected by HIV to have direct contact with outreach workers who were able to take on medication requests from the hospital to provide multi-month dispensing (3-months) of ARV to people living with HIV.

During the Movement Control Order (MCO), which prevented people from travelling during lockdowns, Jeremy was able to work with other organizations to supply ARVs to their clients. Because of the MCO, young transgender and sex workers communities could not move about, visit their clients, and earn a living. The consequences of lockdowns resulted in key populations relying on food aid programmes provided by community groups. Members of these community groups and organizations received special travel permits to move freely and bring in food and essential supplies for those in need.

Currently, the MCO is more flexible than before, so several community groups have launched food aid programmes for people who have lost their income or jobs. Jeremy and his colleagues continue to carry out dissemination programs on HIV awareness by creating digital content for young people to be more alert of HIV during lockdowns. Additionally, they were also able to contact university students who have been living in dormitories and equip them with IEC materials with information about services and counselling support.  

Information, Education, and Communication Materials for the Information Kit

While Jeremy was working for the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia, they had followed COVID-19 guidelines set by the World Health Organization and Malaysia’s Ministry of Health and began integrating COVID-19 protocols into their programmes. They established a government pandemic crisis management action plan, ensuring officers and staff were aware of safe-distancing rules, how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing referral services.

Risk Mitigation Training

Due to the Movement Control Order, the service delivery of HIV services were restricted. To overcome this challenge, several youth organisations and Community-Based Organizations collectively wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health to request a special permit to continue community outreach and case management with supervision and guidance from the local health department.

During the pandemic, under the Differentiated HIV Service Delivery for Key Populations (DHSKP), the Global Fund provided financial assistance for grassroots-organization in Malaysia to purchase PPE. The help from different donors and institutions provided a leg up for organisations and civil society to carry out their work efficiently. Besides, the umbrella body for HIV organisation, the Malaysian AIDS Council, also provided technical assistance by linking grassroots organisations with the health department, ministry of health to receive support, such as easing reporting deadlines and programmes impacted by COVID-19.

Jeremy highlighted the advantages and drawbacks he faced while working online during the pandemic in Malaysia. During this time, he understood that marginalised communities had trouble with internet access and that there was a correlation between geographical and social-economic statuses. He says that community members who were financially struggling might not have enough internet data to engage in online workshops. In the training, transgender and sex worker communities also faced challenges in digital literacy, which affected their participation. To overcome these drawbacks, they tried to provide financial, including internet allowance for participants to obtain stable internet data packages. At the beginning of each meeting/training, they guided community members with demonstrations on how to use online communications platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. This helped ensure their meaningful engagement and participation on interactive tools like Jamboard and Mentimeter.

Access to condoms and lubricants has been a critical issue raised by several young key populations. Because of the MCO, young people stuck at home with their partners have reported higher sexual activity without using condoms and lubricants. Many key populations often rely on the supply of free condoms from community-based organisations. The consequence of this has placed young people, especially key populations, at a highly vulnerable stage of infection with HIV and STIs. To combat this problem, Jeremy and his colleagues began disseminating HIV prevention kits, including condoms and lubricants and delivering them to their homes. Likewise, community members who require HIV testing services were also offered the option to contact their community-based tester to schedule an on-site testing service.

On-site HIV screening for young MSM
Outreach Worker delivering daily necessity to the young PLHIV communities

Access to information and services to HIV, such as counselling, referral to services, community engagement, is still highly needed. But Jeremy believes that what needs to be strengthened is ART medication delivery to PLHIV. Rather than having them collect it in person, hospitals or NGOs should consider delivering it to them by postal service, significantly reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. He also specifies the importance and needs for more youth-friendly health establishments to be in place so that young people feel safe and confident to seek health services. When it comes to educational or health intervention approaches, Jeremy believes that there needs to be a hybrid model in place depending on the context of each KP group.

Jeremy is also working with Youth LEAD and Frontline AIDS to develop a situational analysis of young people’s engagement in the Global Fund process, like the Country Coordianting Mechanisms. Consulting government officials, the CCM secretariat, youth/YKP community, and other stakeholders will allow him to lay the foundations of community experiences, especially during COVID-19. The evidence in this research will be used as an advocacy tool in their respective funding request or research.

Quote: “HIV self-testing is inevitably an essential service that needs to be incorporated into the HIV response in Malaysia. Young PLHIV and LGBITQ+ need to be given the practical and convenient option of HIV self-testing. The surge of homophobia in this country will impede young people from visiting hospitals and clinics out of fear of stigma and discrimination.”

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JAN GABRIEL CASTAÑEDA

Philippines
He/Him
Board Member

Jan is passionate about seeing through the potential contributions of psychological sciences and human rights advocacy in LGBT people’s lives. He is currently Program Associate of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and is a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. He has written for various platforms and publications on a diverse range of topics from gender and sexuality to human rights experiences in different contexts. Jan’s desire is to engage in productive and meaningful work that bridges scholarship with practice rooted in people’s real experiences.

PATRICK JUANICO

Philippines
He/Them
Graphic Designer

Currently, Nico is a college student studying in the Philippines and is simultaneously working for Youth Voices Count as one of the graphic designers for the organization. He lists producing the brand logo and look of HRPlus Asia as one of his significant achievements. His interests in literature and creating films have also honed and continued to improve his skills in graphic designing.

JAN ELLA BRILLANTES

Philippines
She/They
Social Media Officer

Jan Ella is currently taking up her undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas and has been a consistent academic awardee since 2019. She is involved in various organizations such as the Catalyst UPV as the Volunteer Director in 2021, former Publications Committee Head for UP Lipad and former member of Iloilo Pride Team.

JE-ANN PALMAIRA

Philippines
She/Her
Project Finance Officer

Je-ann is the current Project Finance Officer under the Finance Department. She graduated from the University of San Agustin with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major
in Marketing Management.

Her involvement in her University’s Little Theater organization led her to find an interest in theater, films and the arts. Aside from theater arts, she also partakes in the company’s production work including stage management and most notably, heading the organization’s marketing team.

MARION REA CAMEROS

Philippines
She/Her
Accounting Associate

Marion graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting Technology which has made her suitable for being the Accounting Associate of Youth Voices Count. She lists watching movies as one of her hobbies that helps her wind down during her leisure time.

ATTY. RONIFELLE L. BARRIOS

Philippines
She/Her
Legal Counsel

She is a graduate of AB Political Science from West Visayas State University (WVSU), in Iloilo City. In her days in college, she was the founding Prime Minister of WVSU Debate Circle, the ROTC Corps Commander and later a Volunteer Instructor in the Air Force Reserve Command. When she ran for the first time in their University Student Council, she was elected number one councilor. Her interest in leadership grew when she joined the 10th National Youth Parliament, organized by the National Youth Commission in 2014, where she later on became the Regional Convener for Western Visayas.

She then pursued her studies to take up law in San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila. As a law student, she was still active in student organizations: She joined moot court competitions, she served as layout artist in 2 of San Beda Law’s Official Publications: The Barrister and San Beda Law Journal. In her last year in law school, she was the President of San Beda Law Human Rights Advocate (HRA), where she was later conferred Leadership Award by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and her organization, HRA was awarded top advocacy organization.

She passed the 2019 Bar Examinations and became a full-fledged lawyer by 2020.

She worked as Associate of Javier Santiago Torres & Panghulan Law Offices. She now runs her own RLB Law Office as a solo practitioner and serves as Notary Public for and in Quezon City. She serves as legal consultant to MSMEs and Non-profit organizations. At present, she is the Vice President for Communications of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., the Chief Legislative Staff of Councilor Quin Cruz of Pasig City Council and part-time law instructor in Malayan Colleges Laguna – a Mapua School. Interestingly, she is the creator and blogger of The Young Lawyer PH. Recently, she served as Resident Parliamentarian during the Bangsamoro Youth Parliament held last Nov. 7-11, 2022 at Cotabato City.

A lawyer by profession and an artist by heart.

LOUELA MARIE PRADO

Philippines
He/She/They
Admin Officer

An advocate at heart, Louela is a part of several youth-led organizations in the Philippines with various advocacies ranging from climate justice, environmental protection, gender equality, human rights, SRHR, mental health prioritization, youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness. She is currently the Interim Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team after serving the organization for 4 years as the Admin Officer, Executive Secretary at Proyekto Philippines, Member of Team Dugong Bughaw, and more.

She graduated as Summa Cum Laude at West Visayas State University majoring in English Language Studies and is currently taking up her Masters in English Language Studies at the same institution. During her stay at the university, she served as the Vice Chairperson at the University Student Council and Federated Student Council where she organized programs and initiatives that advocated for student involvement in societal causes and being the voice of the students that lobbies their concerns to the administration.

In July 2022, she was awarded by JCI Regatta as one of the Top Outstanding Students in Iloilo and a Top Circle Awardee which is the most prestigious recognition given by the award-giving body.

RONAN JAMES B. PENUELA, RN

Philippines
He/Him
Project Officer

Ronan passed the Philippines nursing licensure exam in 2022 immediately after graduating his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of San Agustin. While juggling his academics, he was elected governor of his college’s student council (Nursing Student Council) in 2021 and board member in 2019 where he was awarded the leadership award and Agustino para sa Tao award due to his excellence in service. He is also a certified Safety Officer (SO1) after completing his training.

He is currently a dialysis nurse in training. He handles the Intersex projects of YVC.

ANFERNEE NENOL KAMINAGA

Marshall Islands
He/Him, They/Them
Project Officer for IGNITE! Empowerment Grants Program

Having done some activism for the Marshall Islands both locally and regionally with climate change, youth empowerment, LGBTQI rights, and nuclear injustice, Nenol takes pride in being an advocate for the causes he is passionate in, being a part of Youth Voices Count and taking a step in amplifying young LGBTQI+ voices. This also inspired him to co-found the first Marshallese LGBTQI Youth Support called Brighten the Rainbow. He is featured in “We Have a Dream” which is a collection of stories from young leaders around the world.

THARINDI DEVASURENDRA

Sri Lanka
They/Them
Project Manager

Tharindi is currently a feminist activist and researcher based in Sri Lanka, and has worked with the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL). They are a trainer on advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and providing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where they actively advocate for safe abortion and bodily autonomy for women.

One of Tharindi’s brainchild initiatives is an Instagram page which mainly focuses on the process of reaching out to queer women in Sri Lanka, a platform that helps in providing them visibility and strategy direction on programming through social media and other means.

They have completed their Bachelors (BA Honors) in English and Linguistics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.

JOHNMEL ESTIMAR

Philippines
They/Them
Finance Manager

Johnmel M. Estimar is the founder and senior adviser of La Villa Pride, a grassroots-level organization for LGBTQI in Villa, Iloilo. They are also a member of the Iloilo Pride team, a Community Based Screening motivator for HIV and an LGBTQI Rights Activist. Miles, as they like to be called, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University-Molo, Inc. They also hold an Associate Degree in Cruise Ship Management in the same University.

They have ample experience in clerk and accounting work for nine years from their previous employer, they are currently employed with Youth Voices Count as Finance Manager since 2019.

ANTHONY DE VICENTE LOPEZ

Philippines
He/Him, They/Them
Deputy Executive Director

Mx. Toni graduated with a bachelor’s degree of secondary education majoring in English at the Capiz State University back in 2021. Aside from this, they sought out other educational opportunities such as Advocacy and Project Management at the Women Deliver Digital University (2015), International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University (2014), and Global Health and Humanitarianism at the University of Manchester (2013).

An advocate of many causes, they are members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and Y-PEER Pilipinas, founder of the Y-Cap for SRHR, founder of United Colours of CapSU, and Alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Back in 2018, they were awarded as the SDG 5 Youth Champion due to the amiable service they have rendered for gender equality.

JUSTIN FRANCIS BIONAT, MA HRD

Philippines
He/His/Him
Executive Director

A learner for life and a seeker of knowledge, Justin graduated his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science at West Visayas State University, Philippines and took on a Master’s of Arts in Human Rights and Democratisation (International Program) at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand under the APMA / European Union Scholarship. At present, Justin is pursuing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from the College of Law, University of San Agustin, Philippines.

Justin entered Youth Voices Count, Inc. in 2018 while studying in Thailand. He later took on the role of Executive Director beginning 2019 and successfully set up the legal registration of the organization in the Philippines under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, he has been leading the organization in various programs and projects centered around LGBTIQ children, adolescents, and youth. Outside Youth Voices Count, Inc., Justin is active in other initiatives in the field of research and law. He was a law student fellow of the Legal Education Advancement Program (LEAP) of the Legal Education Board and the UP Law Center in 2022.

As an aspiring lawyer, he hopes to one day be instrumental in providing legal support for marginalized populations. Justin has also published reports, journal articles, commentaries, and book articles in the fields of law, HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, and Human Rights.

In 2018, he was awarded the Young Achiever HERO Award by APCOM Foundation during the HERO Awards reception at the Royal British Embassy in Thailand for his outstanding work on equality and human rights. He is one of the Youth Council members of the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria”, and a Board Member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Committee.