wad2014During the commemoration of World AIDS Day on 1st December 2014, Panos Institute Southern Africa is calling for critical reflection on the HIV/AIDS epidemic among key populations such as sex workers, sexual minorities, adolescents, mobile populations, among others. 

Critical reflection needed on sexual minorities and other key populations Critical reflection needed on sexual minorities and other key populations While a lot of progress has been made in lowering the levels of new infections in general population, the incidence rates remain high among key populations. Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has been running a number of projects that address concerns of Key Populations.

One such is media trainings on equality law and non-discrimination aimed at enabling the media actors to cover and address issues affecting marginalized and discriminated against populations. PSAf sees the media playing a critical role in calling everyone to account in providing for the needs of all citizens including Key Populations. Evidence gathered during these projects shows that the high incidence rates among key populations is mostly because they have limited or no access to services, especially services tailored to their needs. In some cases, while the services have been available, it has been difficult, almost impossible for certain people to access them. The current response should make deliberate efforts to address these Key Populations.

In Zambia the identified Key Populations include: Sex Workers, adolescents, Men who have sex with men, mobile populations among others.

As we commemorate World AIDS Day, it is crucial that we look at ways of strengthening the response to the pandemic, explore the various inequalities that render these key populations more vulnerable, and therefore causing them to bear the brunt of HIV more than others.

As PSAf, we view the media as an important stakeholder in closing the gap. Unfortunately, by not taking their place as agents for closing the gap, some sections of the media have unintentionally and without knowing it contributed to widening the gap. In most cases, the key populations have been disenfranchised in the response because some media have chosen not to highlight their plight, or to present them in a manner that discourages other stakeholders from supporting them. We believe the media is a voice for the voiceless, a voice through which the concerns of the marginalised can also be heard.

For different stakeholders to participate in closing the gap, they need the right information, and the media has a responsibility of packaging and disseminating that information. A lot of myths currently reign supreme in the region, partly because the media has not done much to provide the right information in the right formats. In some sections of our society it is still taboo to talk about or associate with some of the key populations mentioned above. Most of this is usually out of ignorance, and the media can do a lot to inform the planning and focus of the response.

PSAf research and work with different stakeholders in a number of Southern African countries shows that while key populations are a key factor in the HIV/AIDS response, there is still limited information about them. This presents a challenge for governments, civil society, cooperating partners and other stakeholders to work together to generate evidence that would show the current gaps, and how they can be closed.

The danger of leaving out certain populations is that they will not be covered by the services, and they will remain vulnerable to HIV infection. The populations that are not covered will remain vulnerable to the infection and they will interact with the general population and the problem will be self-sustaining.

To sustainably address the epidemic, it is critical to identify and plan for all pockets of our population that host concentrated epidemics. This is an obligation from a human rights perspective, and it is the only sustainable way to comprehensively address the situation. We all have a role to play in closing the gap.

Lilian Kiefer is Executive Director Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf). This article was originally published here.
Photo by Bordecia34 - Flickr, "HIV/Aids test", 2007, CC BY 2.0.