Aids conference focuses on sex workers and funds

The criminalisation of sex workers, injecting drug users and gay men in many countries battling to overcome HIV are key focuses of the International Aids conference, which opened in Amsterdam on Monday.

A drop in funding for HIV of almost 25% since 2012 and calls for the resignation of Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Agency on HIV and Aids (UNAIDS) are also on the minds of the over 15 000 delegates.

Chased by the police

In Amsterdam’s red light district, sex workers are registered with the local chamber of commerce and pay up to 50% of their earnings in tax – including 21% VAT.

In many parts of South Africa, over 50% of sex workers are living with HIV. Speaking during a tour of the red light district, Kholi Buthelezi, the national co-ordinator of Sisonke, a South African sex worker organisation, called for the “complete decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa”.

“We are being chased by the police, we are not safe. We reject the so-called Swedish model adopted by the National Council of Provinces, that criminalises sex workers’ clients not sex workers. That has the same effect as criminalising sex workers,” said Buthelezi.

Amsterdam sex worker Elsa and president of International AIDS Society and AIDS2018, Prof Linda-Gail Bekker (South African)

Meanwhile, last night UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé was accused of discussing plans with McKinsey, a management consultant group, to slash UNAIDS staff by 40% and reformulate the agency as part of a global public health unit.

Someone with access to email correspondence about this leaked it to Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World.

Plans to dismantle UNAIDS

Sidibé has been under massive pressure to resign for his mishandling of sexual assault by his former deputy, Luiz Loures, and delegates are expected to protest against him at tonight’s opening.

The emails are purportedly between Sidibé, two senior UN officials and McKinsey, in which McKinsey provides Sidibé with advice on how to deal with damage control around the sexual assault and discusses his plans to dismantle UNAIDS.

Donovan told Health-e that while she had not actually seen the emails, the information was from a credible source and that it is impossible to verify the information independently “as the UN has immunity from scrutiny according to its 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities”.

'Chase the virus, not people'

However, UNAIDS spokesperson Sophie Barton-Knotts said, “There have been no consultations with McKinsey on the closure of UNAIDS. UNAIDS is firmly focused on working with countries and civil society towards achieving the targets agreed to by UN Member States at the 2016 UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Aids.”

Meanwhile, Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the only regions in the world where HIV infections and deaths are rising, partly because of laws that drive the virus underground by criminalising gay sex and injecting drug users.

Civil society delegates from these countries have organised under banner “Chase the virus, not people”, and have vowed to disrupt all the presentations by government representatives from these countries, particularly Russia which has some of the worst discriminatory laws and practices. – Health-e News.

Image credits: iStock and Health-e News

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