A new global initiative is seeking to break down communication barriers inside Asian communities around AIDS and HIV with a view to reducing HIV phobia, while encouraging early testing.

The Asia Alive Project was founded by Amazin Lethi, a Vietnamese-born body builder and fitness author who has also worked in film and television.

She told the Star Observer the initiative was aimed at Asian people, no matter who they were or where they lived.

“Whether they’re gay, straight, bi, transgender — HIV doesn’t discriminate,” Lethi said.

“In the Asian community we tend not to discuss these issues and it’s very important that we do because once you start that conversation it makes it much easier for people who have HIV or those who are thinking of getting early testing.

“If we’re not talking about sexuality or HIV amongst our friends or in our families then it’s very hard for an Asian person to come out. If they have HIV or if they know they have to go for an HIV test it makes it doubly hard.

“As a community we also lack role models around these issues and it makes it much easier when you have people in the public eye who are like you or talking about these topics because then you feel like you’re not alone.”

Lethi said the project was still at a grassroots level but was receiving funding through corporate partnerships and private donors and had established offices in Sydney and Europe.

Asia Alive has already sent its first project officer into the field in Vietnam. Although the group hopes to deploy more project officers across Asia in coming years, the large Asian communities in Australia and North America will be important targets as well.

“We’re just at the launch stage of the initiative but we are definitely looking at making contact with organisations like ACON and other organisations around the world and how we can work together in terms of targeting those Asian communities,” Lethi said.

A long-term goal for the group would be to provide microfinancing to help people with HIV get back on their feet financially where they are unable to rely on friends and family.

info: Visit www.asiaaliveproject.com

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