National Aids Commission (NAC) says continued discrimination against key populations in the fight against HIV and Aids has the potential to reverse the gains achieved in national interventions against the virus.
NAC director of programmes Chimwemwe Mablekisi said this on Monday at Mponela in Dowa during the opening of a week-long training of trainers for frontline police officers on the provision of key population-friendly services.
She said: “Key populations are often difficult to reach for critical testing, care and treatment services. They face a higher risk of acquiring HIV and have higher risk for onward transmission and yet their access to services is limited.
“Their rate of accessing safe, effective and quality HIV services is extremely low while stigma and discrimination, including gender-based violence, are high compared to the general population.”
In the Malawi context, female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs are considered key populations.
On the other hand, prisoners, migrant labourers, persons displaced due to emergencies, uniformed personnel, adolescent girls and young women and persons with disabilities are considered vulnerable populations.
Mablekisi said key and vulnerable populations constitute a small proportion of the country’s population, but are disproportionately affected by HIV due to certain risk behaviours. She said the behaviours include marginalisation and structural factors such as stigma, discrimination, violence, human right violations, and criminalisation which contribute to a lack of access to health services.
She said the police service plays a critical role in the protection and promotion of public health and can help address challenges being faced by key populations in accessing the services.
In his remarks, FHI 360 country representative Dr. Ngonizashe Madidi said it is important for the police to understand the profile of people that visit them for victim support services to be helped accordingly to manage HIV-related violence.
He said most key population members are not comfortable to visit the Police to get help because of fear of prejudice and the law, as such, the training will help officers to professionally deal with arising violent cases in relation to HIV and Aids management.
Malawi Police Service national HIV and Aids coordinator Mackenzie Chigumula admitted that mostly, police officers have been unfriendly towards complaints from key populations which has contributed to the people’s suffering.
Malawi is touted to have made progress in the fight against HIV and Aids as statistics from Ministry of Health show a 66 percent drop in HIV-related deaths and infections over a 10-year period. A Joint Annual Review of the National Response to HIV and Aids presented in June last year indicated that HIV-related deaths dropped from 32 000 in 2010 to 10 800 in 2021, representing a 66 percent drop.