Feature story

UNAIDS saddened by the death of Abel Shinana

23 May 2012

Abel Shinana participating at a national HIV combination prevention workshop where he offered insights and recommendations on how to address the needs of key populations at higher risk.

Until recently, the needs and rights of sex workers were largely ignored in Namibia. Over the past year, however, this situation has changed. Sex workers have been organizing themselves, they have been speaking out about the abuses and barriers they face to access HIV services and people have been listening.

Abel Shinana, the late Coordinator of African Sex Workers Alliance in Namibia, was instrumental to this change. A young, male sex worker, Abel was open, thoughtful and committed to the movement. When he first started as the ASWA coordinator over a year ago he was somewhat shy and reserved. Within a few months Abel developed into a courageous and vocal advocate for the rights of sex workers, people living with HIV and the LGBTI population. He was also a critical partner for both UNFPA and UNAIDS on efforts to address HIV among sex workers at both country and global levels.

Just 2 weeks ago, Abel was a presenter and an active participant at a national HIV combination prevention workshop and offered valuable insights and recommendations on how to address the needs of key populations at higher risk. He also recently co-authored a Community Assessment Report on HIV and Sex Work and was the lead author of the related abstract that has been accepted for presentation at the 2012 International AIDS Conference to be held in Washington in July.

In March this year, Abel coordinated the first ever commemoration of the International Sex Worker Rights Day in Namibia which generated considerable press coverage and led to increased public understanding that sex workers have rights too. Indeed Abel was one of the new and strong voices of the human rights of sex workers in Africa, bringing the lived experiences of sex workers to the center of policy debates.

The untimely and tragic death of this committed young leader due to a car accident represents a major loss for the nascent sex worker movement in Namibia and beyond. The outpouring of sympathy from partners at all levels is testimony to this fact. For us at UNAIDS and UNFPA in Namibia, we have also lost a dear friend.