Switzerland: People most at risk of HIV not getting required health services - WHO

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - Failure to provide adequate HIV services for key groups - men who have sex with men, people in prison, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people - threatens global progress on the HIV response, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

In a statement issued here Friday, the global health body said these people are most at risk of HIV infection, yet are least likely to have access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services.

In many countries they are left out of national HIV plans, and discriminatory laws and policies are major barriers to access, according to the WHO's Consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations, released Friday in the lead-up to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, starting on 20 July.

The guidelines outline steps for countries to reduce new HIV infections and increase access to HIV testing, treatment and care for these five ‘key populations’.

They include a comprehensive range of clinical recommendations but, for these to be effective, WHO also recommends countries need to remove the legal and social barriers that prevent many people from accessing services.

For the first time, WHO strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection (pre-exposure prophylaxis) alongside the use of condoms. Rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men remain high almost everywhere and new prevention options are urgently needed.

Modelling estimates that, globally, 20-25% reductions in HIV incidence among men who have sex with men could be achieved through pre-exposure prophylaxis, averting up to 1 million new infections among this group over 10 years.

Studies indicate that women sex workers are 14 times more likely to have HIV than other women, men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to have HIV than the general population, and transgender women are almost 50 times more likely to have HIV than other adults.

For people who inject drugs, studies show the risks of HIV infection can be also 50 times higher than the general population.  

“None of these people live in isolation,” says Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the HIV Department at WHO.  “Sex workers and their clients have husbands, wives and partners. Some inject drugs. Many have children. Failure to provide services to the people who are at greatest risk of HIV jeopardises further progress against the global epidemic and threatens the health and wellbeing of individuals, their families and the broader community.”

The guidelines are published as new figures underline the need for continued global progress on HIV. By the end of 2013, around 13 million people were taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), with 11.7 million of these people living in low- and middle-income countries. This has led to a 20% drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012.

But while the number of people dying of AIDS is falling sharply, preventive efforts are still lagging too far behind, particularly among key populations.

PANA reports that at the International AIDS Conference 2014 in Melbourne, WHO will call on governments to re-energise and strengthen HIV programmes so that all key populations benefit from the ongoing advances in HIV treatment and programme scale-up.
-0- PANA SEG 11July2014

11 july 2014 11:08:58




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