Police must work with key populations not prosecute, says report
HIV health experts have joined forces with police across the world to encourage law enforcement officers to work with key populations, including sex workers and people who inject drugs, to reduce HIV infections, said a report released today.
The report, launched at the AIDS 2014 Conference, acknowledges that by working to end harmful law enforcement practices that drive people away from life-saving health services, HIV experts are now training police across the globe to implement harm reduction approaches to HIV prevention.
"We used to think of these people as our targets, but now we see them as our partners," said Lam Tien Dung, Lieutenant Colonel, People's Police Academy Vietman.
"Harm reduction approaches to HIV prevention among sex workers and drug users have been scientifically proven by public health experts, but cannot be successful without the active participation of law enforcement," he said.
"Many countries, despite the evidence, continue with harsh policies that we know are associated with elevated risk behaviours, but at the community level it is about policing and the relationship between the police, law enforcement, the health sector and the communities," said Michel Kazachkine, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
"There is ample evidence that police practices such as arrest for drug possession, or syringe possession, client harassment or using condoms as evidence of criminal wrongdoing, all obviously directly and negatively impact on behaviour, perception on outcomes on people who use drugs, sex workers in the communities," he said.
"Increasingly there are police around the world who are seeing that traditional approaches to policing of communities who are most vulnerable to HIV are causing more problems and more damage than alternative approaches," said Nick Crofts from the Centre of Law Enforcement and Public Health.
"Police see front line the devastating impact of criminalization of the rampant epidemic of HIV in these communities, and police increasingly are becoming frustrated in parts of the world with filling prisons with people who need health care rather than handcuffs" he said.
Crofts acknowledged that the work the report has done should have been going on for the past two decades, and has been a neglected sector in every police sector he knows, but he knows there are police that want change.
"Those police that do see that there is a different way of doing things in agencies that aren't supportive are becoming part of a global peer support network to bring about change," he said.
Although the report focuses on people who inject drugs and sex workers, there was no mention of the key population of men who have sex with men, considering the amount of countries, which criminalise the homosexual sexual behaviour.
Nick Crofts, who's about to move to Amsterdam to continue his work with the Centre of Law Enforcement and Public Health, told GNN he is hoping to broaden the capacity of the Law Enforcement and HIV Network.
"We're trying to broaden to MSM/LGBT issues and in fact, one of the things I'm doing in Amsterdam is partnering up with a group of Dutch Police who call themselves 'Pink in Blue', who started as a peer support group for gay and lesbian police in the Dutch forces, and are increasingly getting involved internationally.
"One of the things that the network is starting to do is bring these people together, so they can learn from each other too," he said.
Case studies included in the report are from Burma, Ghana, India, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan, and comes as almost 10,000 current and former law enforcement officials from over 35 countries sign the Law Enforcement and HIV Network's statement of support.
Currently, in many countries including Russia, Burma and Vietman, police harass and arrest drug users who attempt to obtain health information and sterile syringes from pharmacies and health service centres.
In China, police have detailed outreach workers at needle exchange sites to obtain information.
These are just a small selection of some of the activities occurring around the world in regards to the prosecution and treatment of key populations, which is why the release of this report is so important to help reduce further HIV infections.