Focusing on the Legal, Social and Policy Barriers to HIV Services for Key Populations

Durban, South Africa – In an official press conference today at the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) in Durban, researchers and community representatives discussed the impact of discriminatory laws and policies in many parts of the world that hinder access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care for the populations most at risk of HIV infection – men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and prisoners as well as social stigmas and discrimination.

The latest data from UNAIDS show that these vulnerable populations account for more than one-third of all new HIV infections globally. Compared to the general population: transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV; men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs are each 24 times more likely to become infected with HIV; sex workers are 10 times more likely to become infected; and prisoners are five times more likely to be living with HIV.

“We will not end AIDS without addressing the needs of the most vulnerable individuals and communities, yet far too many are currently being left behind,” said Chris Beyrer, AIDS 2016 International Chair and President of the International AIDS Society. “Protecting human rights is not just a moral issue, it is a scientific issue. Research presented at this conference will demonstrate that exclusion and discrimination help fuel the spread of HIV.” His most recent paper for The Lancet can be found here.

“Dealing effectively with HIV will require our communities and societies to break down longstanding prejudice, hatred, and ignorance,” said Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. “Only when scientific advances are matched by social and cultural progress can this epidemic truly be contained. We must demand inclusion and consultation. Nothing can be done without us.”

Other press conference speakers included Nigerian LGBT activist Bisi Alimi, who stressed the desperate need to end homophobia, President of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects Pye Jakobsson, and Chair of the Asia Pacific Transgender Network Abhina Aher, who reiterated the importance of separating transgender women from MSM as thier issues are very different. In addition, Frances Cowan of University College London discussed the results of one of the largest randomised trials ever conducted among female sex workers:

SAPPH-IRe intervention empowers female sex workers: The SAPPH-Ire trial was conducted among female sex workers (FSW) embedded within Zimbabwe’s National FSW Programme, Sisters, which provides sex-worker friendly services, free HIV testing, referral to government health services for ART, contraception, condoms, management of sexually transmitted infections, health education, and legal advice, all supported by peer educators.