Spotlighting the Role of Key Populations in West Africa's HIV Response
December 9, 2017
In West Africa, the public health response to key populations most affected by the HIV epidemic is influenced by a moral debate. Largely due to political pressure, current HIV prevention and care policies do not call for an urgent scale-up of comprehensive initiatives among the key populations who are most at risk—men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, sex workers, and transgender persons.
In most West African countries, governments are reticent to engage with key population stakeholders or expand or sustain successful programs even when these programs are successfully jump-started by externally funded nongovernmental or community-based organizations. In recent years, a social justice movement has emerged in Africa that promotes human rights for sexual minorities.
In an effort to support an open dialogue and improve the enabling environment for key populations in West Africa, Health Policy Plus (HP+), a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), jointly organized a special session during the International Conference on AIDS in Africa (ICASA) held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, from December 4–9, 2017. The session featured progress updates from four countries in meeting the commitments made since the Dakar Declaration for Key Populations in West Africa was signed in 2015. The declaration, signed by all countries in West and Central Africa, affirmed the need to improve policies and programs that engage government and other stakeholders to break down societal stigma and discrimination facing the key populations most affected by HIV.
The ICASA session, jointly organized by HP+, the West African Health Organization (WAHO), and The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), was moderated by HP+’s West Africa Regional Director Modibo Maiga, and brought together more than 80 participants. Dr. Luiz Loures, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, and Dr. Xavier Crespin, the director general of WAHO, opened the session, re-affirming their commitment to supporting national and regional strategies to improve HIV services for key populations.
Presenters from the leadership of national AIDS commissions in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal then shared their work in developing country “roadmaps” based on the principles of the Dakar Declaration. Each country roadmap details specific actions for health, police, and justice sectors to build and measure collaborative multi-sectoral programs and policies that improve the outcomes of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services for key populations.
Justine M. Ahadzi-Azanledji, magistrate and First Attorney General at the Supreme Court of Togo, urged stakeholders to continue to raise awareness of health and rights issues for key populations among police officers and ensure that those who are sensitized and trained regularly give feedback to their peers or colleagues. “We need to build alliances with human rights institutions and continue building the capacity of key populations on human rights and gender-based violence,” she explained.
The meeting was described as “one of the best sessions of ICASA 2017” by the deputy executive director of UNAIDS due to its focus on “addressing the issue at the center of the HIV response.” In her closing remarks, USAID West Africa representative Susan Mathew congratulated participants for their work in improving the enabling environment for key populations in West Africa. She emphasized the importance of continued efforts to remove legislative and political obstacles and overcome social and cultural barriers in order to respect the rights of all persons and achieve 90-90-90’s ambitious goals.