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POP INN launches LGTBTI+ Under My Umbrella campaign in time for summer loving

POP INN launches LGTBTI+ Under My Umbrella campaign in time for summer loving

The Aurum Institute’s POP INN project recently launched it's Under My Umbrella campaign, bringing sexual health services to key populations around South Africa.

POP INN’s free clinics are part of a tailored response to the increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women (TGW). “The project was established as an answer to healthcare facilities not catering for the specific needs of key populations, which is further compounded by stigma and lack of awareness of LGBTQI+ health needs,” said Programme Manager Matshidiso Chabane.

The launch events kicked off in Durban on Transgender Awareness Week, with activist Leticia Sishi leading a candlelight ceremony. This was in tribute to members of the LGBTQI+ community and HIV activists who have been assaulted or killed for living openly. The event was aptly held at the Gugu Dlamini Park, named in honour of the HIV activist who was stoned to death after publicly disclosing her HIV status in 1998. 

Speaking at the event, POP INN client, Paul Kwela said there were not a lot of spaces where he can go and feel comfortable and not feel judged for who he is. “I have been bullied because I am gay, but now I have the POP INN clinic where I can feel at home and speak openly about my sexuality and health needs,” he said.   

Kwela is one of the many people who collect free pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) at POP INN clinics around the country. Under My Umbrella promotes the uptake of PrEP and is peer-driven to encourage MSM and TGW to prioritise their health, particularly related to HIV and other STIs. It also focuses on promoting a healthy lifestyle and provides clients with information and support for adherence to life-saving medication. Through the PrEP Connect conversation sessions, members of the LGBTQI+ community are empowered to make informed choices about sexual health, based on what particularly works best for them. POP INN clinics provide safe spaces for PrEP Connect as well as other informal meetings where clients can be comfortable and connect with peers without fear of discrimination.

As a transgender woman, POP INN Lay Counsellor Luyanda Nzimela understands all too well the desperate need for safe spaces for MSM and TGW. “We counsel, engage and inform, addressing not only health issues but also try address broader challenges facing our community,” she said. She hopes that one day society will stop seeing gender as binary and that transgender women and others on the gender spectrum will be acknowledged and treated with respect, instead of fearing to even visit health facilities for care because of stigma and discrimination.

Under my Umbrella was also launched at events in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Ekurhuleni in Gauteng and Ehlanzeni, in Mpumalanga on World AIDS Day. Aurum Key Population Ambassador Vincent “Vee” Nkosi hosted the events which also showcased the signing and dance talents of members of the LGBTQI+ community.

“The launches are fun events which bring attention to the campaign and to raise awareness to and about the community we serve in the areas where they live. It’s also an opportunity for us to screen and test clients and get those who are positive on treatment,” said Project Coordinator, Happy Phaleng.