Engaging Asian & Pacific Islander Communities with a Holistic Approach

Content From: Lance Toma, Chief Executive Officer, San Francisco Community Health CenterPublished: May 19, 20223 min read


Lance Toma
Lance Toma

As we observe National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NAPIHAAD) each year on May 19, we’re seeing that it is possible to end the HIV epidemic. That’s why it’s even more critical now that we make sure we’re front and center in all efforts such as biomedical advances, ensuring that treatment is readily available, and ensuring that PrEP access is a priority.

Originally led by the San Francisco Community Health CenterExit Disclaimer (SFCHC), NAPIHAAD is also about awareness, education, and combatting stigma. In our communities, there is still HIV-related stigma and stigma around mental health and substance use disorders. We must address that if we’re going to ensure that the Asian & Pacific Islander (API) communities get the care and services they need and deserve.

We address stigma by having our community members talk about their struggle with stigma and how that has complicated their journey with respect to being transgender, gay, or HIV positive. In 2005, SFCHC helped launch the Banyan Tree ProjectExit Disclaimer funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We continue to collect digital stories for that library and resources, including new stories about PrEP access and living with HIV during Covid.

The Power of Community

What I saw the past couple of years during Covid—and what broke my heart—is that in API communities, and in many communities broadly, we lost lives. It wasn’t because we weren’t taking care of their HIV; it was because of their isolation or because mental illness or substance use increased. That had severe ramifications.

Community support is so important. I know very personally what it means to feel shame around my queerness, and I had such fear about HIV when I was coming out. When I started learning more and talking about it and felt ok talking about it with friends and family is when I felt like I was able to take care of my health better. I felt stronger and I felt like I was tapping into not just my power, but the power and love of my community. This is something we still need to work on as a community. It’s so important for me that I play as active of a role in my API community and the broader queer community.

Strong Partnerships

Here at San Francisco Community Health Center, we plan to expand our HIV prevention programming for the API communities in the city over the next year. We’re excited about creating a more integrated, holistic approach to HIV prevention. Together with Alliance Health ProjectExit Disclaimer, part of the University of California, San Francisco, we will launch new and more innovative programming to ensure that the API communities are fully and meaningfully involved in ending the epidemic. `

We also have a strong partnership with the Latino Commission on AIDSExit Disclaimer and the Black AIDS InstituteExit Disclaimer. We have been working tirelessly together to address the HIV epidemic across communities of color. There are so many overlaps with respect to racism and discrimination, and the particular homophobia and transphobia that we see in our communities. We call our partnership Stronger TogetherExit Disclaimer, and it’s exactly that. We are stronger together. What we’ve learned through these decades of addressing and confronting HIV in our communities is that we must be connected, and communities of color need to work in partnership together. That really has allowed us to see the advances—when we’re working and fighting together on behalf of all people of color communities.