Stakeholders followed with keen interest progress of deliberations at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Ending Aids which ran from Wednesday and ended on Friday in New York, the United States (US).
Malawi’s seven-member delegation to the meeting included Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Francis Kusaila and Principal Secretary in the ministry Dalitso Kabambe, bringing about high optimism.
This is further spurred by the fact that there have been documented gains over the last few years, with statistics indicating a global decrease in cases of new infections as well as an increase in antiretroviral therapy (ART) uptake.
According to a United Nations (UN) statement released ahead of the meeting, between 2015 and 2016, the number of people on ART increased by about a third.
The improvements were even more impressive in the world’s most affected region, southern Africa, where the number of people on treatment has more than doubled since 2010, registering more than 10 million people.
The feat can partly be attributed to the inclusion of several southern African countries on the Joint United Nations Aids Programme (UNAIDS) Fast Track approach to HIV treatment. The approach has seen Africa recording an impressive 36 percent reduction in Aids-related deaths.
The Fast-Track approach to HIV treatment intends to, by 2020, ensure that 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of the people on treatment have suppressed viral loads.
However, despite the gains, one drawback thwarting the fight against HIV is the failure to incorporate all the distinct population sectors using multi-pronged, all-encompassing approaches and strategies that do not discriminate against and leave out key groups.
One key group which is usually left out is that of sex workers. The group is so vulnerable and prone to HIV and Aids that the press statement prior to the UN High Level Meeting to End HIV singled it out as key in the fight.
More than 70 in every 100 sex workers in Malawi are living with HIV, yet they have no access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR). Thus, a UN target to defeat HIV globally by 2030 is far-fetched.
In 2015, new HIV infections among sex workers alone accounted for 20 percent of the new global infections, which accounted for just 11 percent of the adult population.
While the data is already disappointing, statistics were even more disheartening in sub-Saharan Africa where young women accounted for 25 percent of new HIV infections.
The issues that sex workers face are often silenced and ignored within human rights and HIV and Aids forums as many organisations lack interest in defending their rights.
Lack of protective legislation framed specifically for this key group exposes them to abuse and victimisation. Efforts devoted to ensuring that sex workers are deliberately targeted in to fight the HIV pandemic and enhance their rights have not been satisfactory.
The status quo is a complete manifestation of the lack of interest among decision makers to protect the key group, perfectly thwarting the efforts to significantly reduce and end the pandemic.
There is need to appreciate that reinvigoration of HIV prevention requires additional focus, ensuring that the design and delivery of HIV prevention services reach out to such key populations.
According to a 2010 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Special Sessions, HIV prevalence rate among sex workers in Malawi stands at 70.7 percent, the highest compared to any professional group in the country. n