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Police and HIV Prevention: A Crucial Partnership

A police officer

Getting to zero new HIV infections.

That is the stated goal of the global HIV response. But one way of trying to get there that’s never going to work? Arrests.

Sex workers and people who use drugs bear the brunt of new HIV infections. But because they are criminalized, they face arrest, police harassment, and abuse. Even though we know how to prevent and treat HIV, police often stand between health and social services, and the people who need them.

But a novel approach to law enforcement is changing this.

In this video we see stories from two very different countries about how police are forming partnerships with public health experts, community groups, and advocates of both people who use drugs and sex workers.

In Kenya, more than 600 police have joined sex workers and health experts for trainings. Police violence against sex workers has dropped dramatically, and sex workers have come to trust that the police will respond to their needs. For police, these relationships have improved their sense of safety in neighborhoods where they had been unwelcome and at-risk.

In Kyrgyzstan, the police academy has included courses for more than 800 officers on harm reduction, sex work, and HIV prevention. Speakers at these trainings include health experts, sex workers, and people who use drugs. Instead of locking people up, police officers now refer people to drop-in centers or treatment clinics, or they help to facilitate the delivery of methadone to those in police custody.

But this progress isn’t limited to Kenya or Kyrgyzstan. Our new report shows the impact these partnerships are having in places across the world—from Ghana to India.

The popular police credo is “to protect and serve.” For too long, this has rung hollow for sex workers and people who use drugs.

Now, with police recognizing their responsibility to everyone in their communities, we have a chance to work together to arrest the spread of HIV—not the people who are most at-risk.

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