Feature story

UNAIDS mission highlights HIV response among female sex workers

24 January 2011

Ms Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS with H.E the Vice President and Chair of the Ghana AIDS Commission Mr John Dramani Mahama. Credit: UNAIDS

About 2% of the adult population in Ghana is living with HIV—a figure that has remained unchanged for the past 10 years. The number of new HIV infections in this West African nation, estimated at about 22 000 per year, has also stabilized over the past decade.

Despite a relatively stable HIV prevalence in the country, several populations appear to be at high risk of HIV, including female sex workers and men who have sex with men. According to a recent survey, HIV prevalence among sex workers in Accra and Kumasi was 25% in 2009. Sex work in Ghana also contributes to a significant proportion of new HIV infections.

In an official mission to Ghana, Jan Beagle, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director (Management and External Relations), met with a group of female sex workers at the Accra headquarters of the West African Program to Combat AIDS and STI (WAPCAS), a non-government organization that develops and implements HIV programmes for female sex workers, their clients and men who have sex with men.

With 20 satellite offices nationwide, the organization provides a range of services, including reproductive health education, condom promotion, HIV counselling and testing, and clinical services such as the management of sexually transmitted infections. WAPCAS is also working closely with UNAIDS, UNFPA and local police to address discrimination and human rights abuses against sex workers.

All forms of discrimination against key affected populations, such as sex workers, block access to HIV services and impact the quality of care for people living with HIV

Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS

“I can’t stop sex work because I have five children that I am taking care of by myself,” said one female sex worker, during the visit with Ms Beagle. “Engaging in sex work is the only way I can provide for my family since I don’t have any employable skills,” she added. Other sex workers told the Deputy Executive Director that they were unable to report human rights abuses to police because their work is considered illegal in Ghana.

Ms Beagle said that UNAIDS is serious about focusing HIV resources and attention on sex workers, as they form one of the most important populations at higher risk of HIV infection in Ghana. “All forms of discrimination against key affected populations, such as sex workers, block access to HIV services and impact the quality of care for people living with HIV. We must do more to address stigma and discrimination in Ghana.”

During her mission, Mr Beagle met with Mr John Dramani Mahama, Vice President of the Republic of Ghana. Ms Beagle congratulated Ghanaian authorities on the political and financial commitment they have shown in the national AIDS response, while underscoring the urgent need to prioritize HIV resources for populations at higher risk of HIV infection.

Mr Mahama reiterated his Government’s commitment at the highest level to “vigorously combat” the HIV epidemic in Ghana. He pledged to provide the necessary resources to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and reduce stigma and discrimination against key affected populations.