Police working in partnership with key populations
Increasingly, across the globe, HIV organisations and experts are training police to implement harm reduction strategies to prevent HIV transmission among people who inject drugs (PWID) and sex workers. Police relations with these key populations have been largely negative, with these groups highly susceptible to police violence and harassment. Using condoms as evidence of prostitution, and harassment at needle exchange centres, are just a couple of instances of police behaviour that are driving PWID and sex workers away from healthcare and increasing their risk to HIV infection. The Open Society’s new report however highlights police partnerships that are reversing these trends and reducing these populations vulnerability to HIV; working with these groups, rather than against them.
Harm reduction partnerships have been documented across six countries from India to Ghana. Police in these countries have been taking part in training workshops with HIV experts, civil society organisations and sex workers engaging them in harm reduction strategies and raising awareness about the problematic relations that exist between these key populations and law enforcement. Harm Reduction programmes include the provision of sterile needles, distribution of condoms and promote access to health and social care for those most in need. With a focus on working together, these programmes are benefiting both police officers and key populations. Concentrating on human rights and public health, this training is changing police practices, helping them to acknowledge the vital role they play in the HIV epidemic and ultimately reducing HIV transmission among PWID and sex workers.
Through these collaborations, the importance of supporting these key populations rather than criminalising them is becoming more apparent among law enforcers. Inclusion and cooperation of police in harm reduction programmes will help to change police attitudes, decrease vulnerability of these key populations and enable them to access healthcare - factors that are critical for combating the HIV epidemic among these key populations.