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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Global HIV infection rates among sex workers, injecting drug users on the rise

A drug addict injects himself at Makadara grounds Mombasa./FILE
A drug addict injects himself at Makadara grounds Mombasa./FILE

HIV infection rates among 'key populations' globally are more than five times higher compared to that of the general population – a new report shows.

Key populations are groups that experience both increased impact from one of the diseases and decreased access to services.

They include men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers.

Read: HIV infection rates are increasing among adolescents - report

The report dubbed “Get on the Fast Track” by UNAIDS states that stigma, discrimination and criminalisation are some of the challenges these populations face from the society and when trying to access health services.

“Communities of people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people are among the hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic," the report reads.

It noted that HIV prevalence within these groups is 5–49 times higher than in the general population. It is estimated that in 2014, 36 per cent of all new infections were among key populations and their sexual partners.

Also read: Kenya has highest HIV infection rate in Africa in 10 years - study

The report also showed that new HIV infections among injecting drug users globally climbed from an estimated 114,000 in 2011 to 152,000 in 2015.

For men who have sex with men, new infections rose by about 12 per cent from 2011 to an estimated 235,000 new infections in 2015.

New HIV infection rates among sex workers remained virtually unchanged at 125,000 a year over the same period.

People who inject drugs are more likely to engage in high-risk practices such as sharing needles.

The fear of being arrested by police prevents them from accessing harm reduction and other HIV and health services.

These people are also extremely vulnerable to hepatitis C and tuberculosis.

“Selling and/or buying sex is partially or fully criminalised in at least 39 countries. When possession of condoms is used by the police as evidence of sex work, this greatly increases the risk of HIV among this key population. Even where sex work is not criminalised, sex workers are rarely protected under the law,” read the report.

More on this read: Kenya has sub-Saharan Africa's fastest growing HIV infection rate

Close to 36.7 million people are living with HIV globally, out of which 1.8 million were children below the age of 15 years.

An estimated 2.1 million infections were recorded last year.

Kenya has approximately 1.5 million people who are living with HIV.

Despite the HIV prevalence standing at 5.9 per cent, the prevalence among key populations is three times that of the national prevalence.

Data from the National Aids Control Council shows that Kenya has 133,000 sex workers, 22,000 men who have sex with men and 18,327 injecting drug users.

The report recommends the need to reach these populations with comprehensive HIV prevention services which is critical to achieving the global target of reducing new infections to less than 500,000 globally by 2020.

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