PATTAYA, Thailand, 15 October 2010 - At the first-ever Asia-Pacific consultation on HIV and sex work, sex workers, government officials and United Nations participants emphasized the need for urgent action to increase focus and positioning of sex work within HIV responses in the region.
Close to 150 delegates from eight countries (China, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Thailand) met in Pattaya, Thailand, to form partnerships and review policies and laws that keep sex workers from accessing HIV services and sexual and reproductive health services.
“Sex work interventions must be central to scaling up the HIV response, and listening to sex workers is crucial,” said Jan Beagle, Deputy-Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) who spoke at the consultation. “Sex workers experience firsthand the effects of laws and harmful enforcement practices that violate their human rights and hamper progress on HIV,” he said.
As part of the consultation–co-organized by the Asia-Pacific Regional Offices of UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), and hosted by the Royal Government of Thailand–country delegations shared experiences and strategies and worked on national action plans, to be carried forward by the country-level partnerships.
Welcoming participants, Deputy Permanent Secretary from Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Siriwat Tiptaradol, said: “This consultation marks significant progress in partnership among government, non-government, civil society and international partners. I expect that our efforts will not only strengthen the recognition that “sex work is work,” but will also result in actions to make sex work safer.”
Sex work is a central driver of the AIDS epidemic in the region. It is estimated that 10 million Asian women sell sex to 75 million men, who have intimate relations with a further 50 million people (Report of the Asia Commission on AIDS, 2008). HIV prevalence among sex workers reaches up to 20 per cent in some countries (UNGASS Country Progress reports 2006, 2008 & 2010).
Yet, HIV prevention coverage is estimated to reach only one third of all sex workers in the region. Funding for interventions on sex work and HIV is falling, despite evidence of their cost-effective impact.
Addressing barriers to progress
The consultation addressed key obstacles that keep sex workers from accessing HIV services, hampering progress in reducing new infections and providing treatment and care. Discussions focused on four themes: sexual and reproductive health and rights, including within condom programming initiatives; migration and mobility; creating an enabling legal and policy environment; and violence against sex workers.
“Every day we confront brutal realities–arrest, violence, discrimination. We want to turn the tide by demanding that initiatives designed ‘for’ us must be designed ‘with’ us,” said Kay Thi Win, Chair of APNSW and programme manager of the Targeted Outreach Programme of Population Services International Myanmar.
Sex workers in the region are routinely denied access to health services. They are frequently harassed and often face criminal charges and detention. Participants expressed concerns that enforcement of new anti-trafficking laws in some countries has exacerbated this situation, citing recent cases where carrying condoms has led to arrests.
“Enabling sex workers to openly access prevention services with dignity must be part of every national HIV programme,” said UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane who spoke at the consultation. “Revising laws and policies and addressing attitudinal barriers will enhance the effectiveness of HIV prevention, improve access to health services, including reproductive health, and reduce violence against sex workers.”
UNAIDS | Beth Magne-Watts | tel. +66 81 835 3476 | firstname.lastname@example.org
UNFPA | William A Ryan | tel. +66 89 897 6984 | email@example.com
APNSW | Andrew Hunter | tel. +66 89 696 4925 | firstname.lastname@example.org
UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, is an innovative United Nations partnership that leads and inspires the world in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Learn more at unaids.org.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. UNFPA - because everyone counts. unfpa.org
APNSW, a health and human rights network, focuses on facilitating sex worker participation and information sharing on technical and policy issues, sex work advocacy and building leadership among male, female and transgender sex workers. apnsw.org