Safety of key populations

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27 Jul 2018


Yesterday I attended a community leadership session titled ‘Doing no harm: Practical approaches for safely delivering HIV services with and for key populations’. This session introduced a safety and security toolkit that was developed by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance for use with key populations when developing HIV programs in hostile environments.

Many countries around the world currently criminalise HIV, injecting drug use, sex work, homosexuality, and remain hostile to key populations, and this document could be particularly useful in terms of risk management. Of particular note, were three checklists that can be used to assess risks in a very practical way: organisational, individual, and workplace.

Community members spoke of violence they’d faced in their countries and the fact that often they need to choose between their life and their identity. One trans individual from Uganda explained that, through being an activist, it’s possible to be arrested at an airport and simply disappear.

Other community members explained that they can be forced out of suburbs where they live and work when individuals find out which particular clients are accessing services, and that it can be increasingly difficult to find landlords that will offer them space.

In terms of security planning, the skills-building session provided a simple yet useful formula: risk = threat x vulnerability/capacities. The likelihood of something adverse happening depends on threats or indication of threats. One needs to consider what the vulnerabilities are in relation to mitigating risk? And what capacities do individuals have? E.g. allies, infrastructure etc.

The experts leading the session outlined that often little can be done to address the threats. Even so, one must consider key capacities such as what does someone need to carry out an act of violence? The most important factors were found to be access, resources, and an ability to act with impunity.

 Key points included:

  • Prevention is better than a response.
  • Increased readiness is an important consideration. There is NEVER a zero risk.
  • Risk mitigation/measures currently in place must be considered. Even with prevention measures in place, risks still occur.

The skills-building facilitators concluded by outlining that individuals of any key population in a specific area will have a particular level of risk aversion. If someone has a low-risk aversion (being an activist in their country), they may place others at risk in their community.

In a world that seems to be becoming increasingly crazy, it’s important to consider aspects of safety for key populations in terms of HIV programming, and also in terms of personal safety.