Yesterday, NSWP president Andrew Hunter made a good speech and explained many of sex workers’ issues in the context of HIV/AIDS.
The US travel restrictions will prevent sex workers to be in Washington, but it is in Washington that will be released a new study and the new very bad figures of HIV infections among African sex workers. We expect that between 40 to 70 % of sub-Saharan sex workers are HIV + according to the country they live in.
This is a clear evidence of the impact of the PEPFAR/USAID anti prostitution pledge on our community. Our exclusion from the Washington conference is therefore a way to stop us to denounce US policies and their impact around the world.
Hunter insisted that the travel restrictions are not a problem only during the conference for the sex worker activists, but all the time, for all sex workers around the world who can’t even transit through the US to travel from one country to another.
He added that the restrictions should not, however, be our main focus, because of the even more serious issue of sex workers lack of access in ARV and treatment. Many health services and clinics continue to discriminate and exclude sex workers around the world who see their access to prevention, treatment and health services denied.
The criminalisation of sex work has a dramatic impact in the access to health.
How the US administration can therefore support only programmes that do not challenge the criminalisation of sex work?
How can HIV money fund anti-prostitution groups that offer rehabilitation and preach abstinence instead of condoms?
How can so many US states use condoms as evidence of sex work to criminalise sex workers?
We know that the best response to HIV is sex worker led health projects working within the communities in a decriminalised environment. We know that the New Zealand approach for example has been very efficient in stopping HIV/AIDS.
For this conference, Asian HIV+ sex workers released a campaign called “we need the best ARV to look fabulous”.
Only the old treatments are accessible in many of the global south countries. However, these treatments have considerable side effects in terms of lipodistrophies, osteopathy, diarrheas that prevent sex workers from working.
HIV+ sex workers are those most often arrested by the police because they can’t run away from them as easily due to neuropathies or being too weak.
The choice of Washington by the HIV movement will have huge consequences in the exclusion of sex workers’ voice and in the continuing of criminal US practices which have a dramatic impact around the world.