The recently concluded ICAAP 9 conference in Bali Indonesia was the most public place where a number of new directions in sex work and HIV policy were announced or negotiated.
The conference represented UNAIDS most public declaration of the new position on sex work that it has adopted after years of lobbying by APNSW and other NSWP member organisations. Gone is the focus on rehabilitation and rescue and in it’s place the Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidebe announced that vulnerable communities must be at the heart of the response to HIV; and included in this was a need to remove laws that criminalised sex workers- see links below.
This was backed up by UNDP and also the UN Special Rapporteur on Health in other media releases from the conference.
APNSW also organised a very fruitful dialogue with the director and some key staff of the Global Fund (GFATM) and told him of the issues sex workers face in GFATM funded programming for sex workers. APNSW put forward the position that Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCM’s) that are developing proposals that cover sex workers must include sex worker representation and must consult more widely with the sex worker communities on their needs and program impacts. Additionally we argued for a new Technical Guidance to be used by the Technical Review Panel (TRP) when assessing country and regional proposals for funding. In reality it is the TRP who decide whether a countries proposal is technically sound and should be funded. The nuts and bolts of these issues are to be followed up on in time for the next round of the Fund. This represents an opportunity for real change for millions of sex workers on the ground across Asia and the Pacific.
Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director
More than a thousand people become infected with HIV in Asia each day. If only we had invested in reaching populations at higher risk and their partners, most of these infections could have been averted – at a cost of less than half a US dollar per person.
We are beginning to see success in some parts of the region, but not enough to break the trajectory of the epidemic.
The Commission on AIDS in Asia has recommended that the AIDS epidemic in the region be redefined. We must transform the AIDS response so that it works for people—especially for those who are marginalized and without a voice. This means protecting sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender, injecting drug users and women.
How can we do this?
1. Decriminalize consensual adult sexual behaviour and drug use.
2. Address HIV transmission among intimate partners.
3. Invest in evidence-informed HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes.
4. Adopt an ‘AIDS plus Millennium Development Goal’ approach.
Decriminalize consensual adult sexual behaviour and drug use
Many countries are changing laws that criminalize consensual adult sexual behaviour (including sex work) and drug use, and courts are helping to clarify bad laws. In Indonesia, the Supreme Court ruled that drug users need care, not prison. In Nepal, the highest court has established that transgender and men who have sex with men have equality under the constitution. And in India, the Delhi High Court has restored dignity to millions, by reading down an archaic law that discriminated against men who have sex with men. New Zealand has legalised sex work and reaped the dual benefits of public health and public safety. Australia has demonstrated that law enforcement and public health goals can go hand in hand while dealing with drug use. We can remove punitive laws and policies that block effective responses to AIDS.
But the real transformation has to be in the hearts and minds of people. Courts and parliaments can only create an enabling environment. Societies and communities have to change the social norms that allow stigma and discrimination.