The newly released UNAIDS 2016-21 Strategy Plan offers a bold set of goals and a deeper commitment to targeting structural barriers to global HIV prevention, including criminalization, stigma, poverty, travel bans, and broader civil rights abuses. While UNAIDS’ pro-decriminalization stance predates the 2016-21 Strategy Plan, the plan provides a new level of specificity and detail, as well as explicit calls to action. Additionally, for the first time, the plan fully integrates the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda, indicating increased prioritization of human rights and economic justice as it relates to the fight against HIV.
Ending the AIDS epidemic will involve progress across the entire spectrum of rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, social, sexual and reproductive. Defending the rights of all people—including children, women, young people, men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers and clients, transgender people and migrants—is critical to ensuring access to life-saving services. Through the realization of their rights, people being left behind will move ahead, to the very forefront of the journey to end AIDS— informed and empowered, mobilized and engaged.
-(UNAIDS 2015-2016 Strategy plan, p. 3)
Also new is the United States’ inclusion as a”Fast Track” country in the fight against HIV, joining Russia as one of only two high-income countries with high HIV transmission rates needing rapid acceleration of HIV prevention and treatment programmes. This signals the United States’ growing acknowledgement of falling behind other developed countries in effectively targetting HIV.
Targets specifically relevant to sex workers include:
- Promoting safe and secure work environments to address access barriers to HIV services, especially for undocumented migrants and sex workers
- Ensuring 90% of key population members in Fast Track countries have access to non-discriminatory, tailored programs including sex workers, MSM, IDU, transpersons, persons in prison, and migrants.
- Expanding programs to address human rights violations and barriers to justice for key populations, including sex workers.
- Reducing punitive laws, policies and practices that impede an effective AIDS response, including travel restrictions and forced testing, criminalization of HIV transmission, same-sex sexual relations, sex work and drug use.
Criminalization of sexual and gender minorities, sex work and drug use contributes to stigma, discrimination and violence against key populations, including by state actors, and is a key barrier to an evidence-informed, rights-based AIDS response. People living with, at risk of or affected by HIV who experience violations of human rights often lack access to legal assistance and justice. Particularly concerning is the misuse of criminal law and resulting incarceration of key populations. Prisons and other closed settings often lack adequate health services, while mandatory HIV testing, often conducted without confidentiality or privacy, is common. Labour migrants, refugees and asylum seekers living with HIV face discrimination by states that restrict their entry, enforce mandatory HIV testing or forcibly return them.
-(UNAIDS 2016-2021 Strategy plan, p. 37)
SWOP-USA applauds the UNAIDS innovate, rights based approach to reducing global HIV burdens and welcomes the 2016-2021 Strategy Plan as a valuable resource for HIV and key populations advocates in the US and globally. As a US sex worker advocacy group, we particularly hope the new UNAIDS Strategy plan will have an influence on the United States’ approach to HIV and sex work, which is now severely hindered locally by the PEPFAR Anti-Prostitution Pledge, the exclusion of sex workers from national HIV surveillance and strategy, the absence of tailored prevention programs for US sex workers, criminalization, bans on travel to the US for sex workers and IV drug users, discrimination and human rights abuses.
Equally important, we hope the UNAIDS Strategy Plan will encourage similar attention to structural barriers and civil rights abuses that, despite progress, continue to exist for many other aids-affected populations in the United States: in particular incarcerated populations, those living below the poverty line, injecting drug users, GLBT and homeless youth of color, and black gay and bisexual men, trans women and women living with HIV. Any ground made in the United States’ as-of-yet non-existent HIV strategy towards sex workers will be ineffective without simultaneous advances across these intersecting communities.