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September 22, 2017

HIV among gays, sex workers, drug abusers 5X above other groups

A health guide book of men who have sex with men /FILE
A health guide book of men who have sex with men /FILE

HIV infections among key populations globally are more than five times higher compared to that of the general population, a new report indicates.

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.

The report called “Get on the Fast Track” by UNAIDS shows that stigma, discrimination and criminalisation are some of the problems these groups face from society and when trying to access health services.

“Communities of people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender are among the hardest hit by the HIV-Aids epidemic. HIV prevalence within these groups is five to 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,” reads the report.

The report also shows that new HIV infections among injecting drug users rose 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 infections 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 of 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.

Close to 36.7 million people are living with HIV globally, of this number 1.8 million are children below the age of 15 years. An estimated 2.1 million infections were recorded last year.

Kenya has approximately 1.5 million people 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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