While we are seeing important rapid and sustained scale ups of HIV treatment, progress on prevention has stalled. There continues to be insufficient investment in prevention and a failure to implement programs, including human rights programs, that have been proven to work to scale or sometimes at all.
But what continues to be one of our largest barriers is the ongoing failure to address the structural, legal and policy barriers to evidence based prevention responses. 189 countries still criminalise sex work with 30% of those countries criminalising ALL aspects of buying, facilitating and selling sex. As cited in the Lancet Special Issue on HIV and Sex Work, the decriminalisation of sex work would be the single greatest intervention resulting in a 33-46% decrease in infections among sex workers and our clients. For sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, trans people and women the laws that criminalise us remain insurmountable barriers to accessing and implementing HIV prevention strategies to protect ourselves and others from HIV. In too many countries, we are criminalised for who we are, who we love and how we work. The tools we use for prevention are used as evidence to prosecute us for our drug use, sex, sexuality and sexual labour.
We have ample evidence of the success of prevention programs by and for sex workers when they are delivered at scale. Yet across countries we continue to receive reports of how health promotion materials, information on HIV prevention and condoms are routinely confiscated from sex workers and used as evidence against us. The sheer lunacy of this, the violation of our rights and the incredible waste of resources that are used in arresting us and confiscating the tools we use for our work to protect ourselves and the community from HIV. We will not end the epidemic until we address the legal barriers to implementing prevention strategies and to access and possess the means of prevention.
There is a hesitance for Ministries of health to see legal and policy reform as part of their remit. I cannot stress enough how much they are interrelated. Responses to prevent HIV cannot succeed until they are aligned to human rights and address the criminalisation of key populations. I urge member states to work collaboratively with key populations and ministries of justice in your countries to remove the legal and policy barriers to prevention strategies and to repeal criminal laws against sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men and trans people to end HIV transmission and infection- not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is necessary to prevention efforts. It is cost effective, and it works. We cannot end the epidemic until we end the criminalisation of key populations.
Agenda 6. Annual progress report on HIV prevention 2020
Delivered by Jules Kim, Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association
Tags: 43rd PCB Meeting