My name is Doan Thanh Tung, and I’m the Director of Lighthouse, an organisation by and for LGBT people in Vietnam. Attending the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam last July was an amazing experience. For me, this was the second time to participate in an international conference as a representative of the Vietnamese LGBT community. However, this was the first time that I took part as a speaker, presenter, co-chair and pitcher. It was extremely inspiring for me to meet scientists, activists and representatives of various organisations from all over the world and to learn from them. Moreover, I was delighted to see my personal story as part of Bridging the Gaps’ photo exhibition, ‘Stories of Change’, along with the presentation of my organisation. The exhibit was launched during AIDS 2018, and I was there to see it!

In the HIV response, networking and learning from each other are paramount

During the conference, I felt very proud of all those people speaking out for their communities, raising issues, presenting projects, co-leading events and participating in strategic discussions. They brought in useful ideas for the global HIV response, such as the importance of engaging young key population members. A significant focus of AIDS 2018 was the involvement of key populations in the HIV response. But I think the conference paid too little attention to community-led HIV programmes and research projects. And, unfortunately, it lacked capacity building activities for community representatives, viz. LGBT people, sex workers and people who use drugs.

I also missed support for sharing information at the regional and national level after the conference. And I observed that, for many community members, this was the first time they had participated in such a large and complex conference and that they needed more guidance. It would have been very helpful to have an online platform for community representatives where they could share experiences and knowledge and where more experienced conference participants could give information.

Besides, conference attendees are hardly able to share lessons learnt with those who did not participate, also because of limited funding. Ideally, after each conference, we should convene a meeting in our country with community leaders and government representatives to share new knowledge, embrace best practices, adapt plans and develop fresh strategies.

Furthermore, an important topic that really interests me and that was not discussed at AIDS 2018 is the linkage between human rights-based HIV programming and sustainable community involvement. I also would have liked a discussion about investments for community-led initiatives. However, all in all, the conference was a great success. It provided me with valuable information that I can use in my country, for example about PrEP and differentiated service delivery. And I made a lot of new friends and met so many colleagues from around the world. Networking and learning from each other are paramount in the HIV response.

Photo: Quoc Ahn Nguyen