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Monday, 18 January 2016 10:44

KP conference

by Vanessa Kruger

The 2nd African Conference on Key Populations (KP) in the HIV Epidemic, held in Dar es Salaam from the 16th to 18th December 2015, focussed on “key insights, key advances, key partnerships”. The conference was well attended with approximately 100 different papers being presented in parallel sessions over a 3-day period. Amongst presenters and participants were people from KP and organisations representing the interests of KP.

Research into issues related to HIV and KP appears to be taking place within a climate of openness and tolerance, with policy makers and planners engaging readily with researchers and activists on public platforms. A field trip to a harm reduction programme provided an innovative and progressive example of prevention strategies being implemented in the face of legal constraints, stigma and limited resources. A key characteristic of the programme was the existence of “champion” at local government level who, together with the non-governmental service provider, have found and created mechanisms to allow interventions within fairly harsh existing socio-legal constraints.As the conference progressed, it became evident that the policy makers and planners participating in the conference could be considered to be the “converted”. The importance of evidence was recognized and the need to work with representative of key populations to design appropriate policies and services was clearly articulated. However, in general, the papers presented spoke to the difficulty of undertaking research into KPs with social-political and legal climates being, in most cases, outright hostile and far from enabling.

The difficulties in the identification of subjects, accessing communities and ensuring the safety of respondents, given the subject matter, was reported on repeatedly throughout the conference. Some KPs are clearly more accessible than others - with large variation from country to country in the region. There was a strong emphasis on men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs (PWID), sex workers and transgender people. Migrants, mobile populations and refugees were the subject matter of small proportion of studies presented. The role of ethnographic type studies, purposive and snowball sampling and qualitative data collection techniques is vital – particularly in countries where policies and laws refuse to recognise the rights and roles of key population in the HIV epidemic.

The one glaring gap was that of work amongst prisoners. This group, while incarcerated, cannot be accessed except with the explicit and formal permission of officials. Without policy to enable the routine collection of data and provide access to prisoners to allow them to inform interventions and types of services, this key population group will remain one of the most vulnerable. Getting policy makers and planners to comprehend the significant of prisoners in fighting the HIV epidemic is critical. More...

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