Let communities lead: HIV law and policy reform by and for key populations in Asia and the Pacific

New SCALE Initiative grants supporting key population-led organizations to remove barriers to HIV services in Nepal, Philippines and Thailand

November 28, 2023

Flash Mob by young queer people on the Transgender Day of Visibility 2023.

Blue Diamond Society

The theme for this year's World AIDS Day, "Let Communities Lead," serves as a powerful rallying cry for collective action. In the ongoing global response to HIV, people living with HIV and other key population communities, including gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs and sex workers, play a pivotal role. These communities possess the unique ability to connect with their peers and challenge harmful laws and policies that block access to essential HIV services.

Although new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths have declined overall across Asia and the Pacific since 2010, several countries are seeing steep rises, particularly among young people aged 15-24. Young people and their sexual partners accounted for a quarter of new HIV infections in the region in 2022. HIV is also disproportionately affecting key populations. The median HIV prevalence in the region is 25 times higher for men who have sex with men, 20 times higher for people who inject drugs and transgender people, and 5 times higher for people in prisons and sex workers compared to the general population. 

Last month, UNDP’s SCALE Initiative announced the ‘Law & Access’ grant programme, providing US$1 million for key population-led organizations across 16 countries. The SCALE Initiative is a two-year partnership to support key population-led efforts to counter discriminatory laws and HIV-related criminalization. Underpinning these grants is UNDP‘s commitment to strengthening the leadership of people living with HIV and key populations on the pathway to law reform. Eight of the small grants are in Asia and the Pacific.

PANTAY hosting an ’Equality Allies Workshop’.


In the Philippines, nearly half of all new HIV infections are among young people. Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY) is utilizing its Law & Access grant to increase knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention for young men who have sex with men and transgender people.

“With the help of partner local governments and their elected youth leaders, Project CLASH seeks to harness the power of digital interventions, such as mobile gaming tournaments, to mobilize at least 300 young people. We aim to foster open conversations among youth on topics of sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS advocacy,” said AJ, Project Officer for Training and Implementation, at PANTAY.

Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Incorporated (CURLS) aims to mobilize the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) community and key populations in the Philippines through its grant. CURLS is helping to implement and enforce existing anti-stigma and discrimination protection ordinances, including those recently passed in August 2023, and facilitate mechanisms for community access to justice. 

Meeting with the National Centre for AIDS And STD Control.


Alhough Nepal is one of several countries to achieve significant reductions in new HIV infections due to focused prevention programmes, human rights barriers for key populations remain. The National Association of PLWHA (NAP+N) in Nepal is sensitizing and mobilizing communities to become more aware of their rights and the legal support available to them, ultimately helping to reduce human rights barriers to accessing health services. Amidst a backdrop of both wins and setbacks for the LGBTIQ+ community in the country, Blue Diamond Society is creating and strengthening tools and spaces to advocate for accessible and trans-informed mechanisms to access citizenship based on self-determination.

“Through the SCALE Initiative Law & Access grant, our organization will create a platform for transgender and non-binary people to share our own stories related to challenges we face accessing citizenship ID,“ said Manisha Dhakal, Executive Director at Blue Diamond Society.” This will help to advocate for legal gender recognition, as per our self-determination.”

With the personal possession of drugs criminalized and limited protection mechanisms in place for people who use or inject drugs, SPARSHA Nepal and Recovering Nepal are focusing their grant projects on harm reduction and advocacy for decriminalization, including through collaborative efforts.

SPARSHA Nepal Programme Coordinator Mr. Abhimanyu Bista speaking on the organization’s advocacy programme organized for people living with HIV and key populations.


SPARSHA Nepal is planning several activities to unlock access to services for the community, including efforts to strengthen evidence to support Know Your Rights campaigns, a study to evaluate opioid substitution therapy and establishment of a network of harm reduction service providers. Recovering Nepal is developing an advocacy programme focused on legal empowerment, strategic litigation and policy advocacy, with an emphasis on reducing gender-based inequity. 

While communities must lead, educating and sensitizing those whose responsibility it is to respect, promote and realize the human rights of communities is critical – these include duty-bearers such as judges, law enforcement, government officials and health care workers. TLF Share Collective is working in the Philippines to strengthen the capacities of elected district leaders on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics and the HIV Policy Act of 2018 to help duty bearers recognize the important role they play in addressing discrimination. 


Acknowledging the need to enhance the working conditions and overall well-being of sex workers, SWING is working to sensitize future law enforcement officials, particularly police cadets, about the challenges faced by sex workers in Thailand. Though Thailand is well on its way to achieving the 95-95-95 targets and has been actively addressing stigma and discrimination in its national HIV response, SWING will document the impact of the lack of labour protections for sex workers to help inform a policy brief for further reform and protection.

On World AIDS Day and every day, UNDP amplifies the call to let communities lead. Countries that put communities and people first provide an example of what progress can look like on the path to end AIDS by 2030 and achieve the 10-10-10 targets set out in the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. Together with partners, UNDP continues to help strengthen communities on the frontlines, scale what works and leave no one behind.