May 11, 2023

5 Questions with Yashwinder Singh

Our monthly check-in with staff from around the world. Learn more about the people who work at CHAI.

Please tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to CHAI.

I am an LGBTIQA+ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other terms (such as non-binary and pansexual) activist with over 18 years of experience in public health, mostly in HIV with a focus on key populations. My background is in pharmaceuticals with a postgraduate in social work. I have experience implementing Global Fund programs, including a three-year stint as a Key Population representative in India. My last assignment was on a Global Fund project focused on community systems strengthening and virtual media programming to engage hard-to-reach populations such as people living with HIV, men who have sex with men and sex workers. I am a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) champion in India; a member of the national steering committee in the National Viral Hepatitis Control Program (NVHCP); an LGBTQA+ subgroup member in NITI Aayog (formerly known as the Planning Commission of India). I am also a documentary filmmaker focused on social and community issues addressing gender-based violence and HIV and AIDS issues, including prevention tools such as condoms and PrEP.

It is a thrilling experience to be part of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) family. It has provided me with an opportunity to engage on viral hepatitis; there is very little information and awareness about this silent killer in the general population and among vulnerable groups. I decided to take up this exciting work as a challenge and I am committed to the elimination goal of viral hepatitis.

1. What does a typical day looks like at CHAI?

Although nothing is typical, my portfolio includes support to two states of Northern India – Punjab and Haryana. It involves daily coordination with CHAI state teams, and respective viral hepatitis control departments of each state. My work is focused on strategic engagement, which requires coordination and collaboration with other government departments such as the State AIDS Control Society, and other relevant stakeholders. Innovation also falls under my role, and we have some new projects in the pipeline. My day-to-day activities include monitoring visits to health facilities, supply chain management and capacity building. At times some urgent requests from the health department or national team keep me engaged. Apart from that, I have regular meetings, webinars, and the like.

2. When do you feel the most inspired by your work?

As an activist, it is fulfilling to see positive changes in people’s lives. This is the source of my inspiration that provides me energy to work. In my position, I advocate for improving access to viral hepatitis services among high-risk groups such as people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people  and  female sex workers. We are in the final stages of implementing this innovative approach in Punjab.

3. What is your proudest accomplishment at work or in life?

I would like to share my proudest accomplishment which aligns with both my work and heart. India inherited draconian colonial laws from the 1800s like IPC 377 which criminalized same sex relationships with penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and hefty fines. It was a tool to oppress the LGBTQ community. As a young person, I started my career to fight against IPC 377, be it in the Honorable High Court of Delhi or Supreme Court of India. I was one of the petitioners against the IPC 377 case in the Honorable Supreme Court of India. We submitted research findings and testimonies of human rights violations between 2013 and 2017 due to IPC 377, along with relevant data of the last two decades to the apex court. On Sept 6, 2018, the IPC 377 was finally struck down in India. It became a ray of hope to other nations who are dealing with such dreadful colonial laws. This was the first time in my life I felt I am no more a criminal in the eyes of law. It was a proud moment as this historic verdict would impact the lives of millions of LGBTQ people in India and upcoming generations.

4. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?

Well, on any day, I love to pick up my cam and go shooting this beautiful world. I love to create video and still content -that is my passion.

5. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

 It’s really tough to prefer one over another; I love everything from South Indian to Mexican food, but if it’s one meal, I would say salads and smoothies.

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