West African Governments Will Support Health Services for Vulnerable Populations at Highest Risk of HIV

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In line with the worldwide goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, government officials from all fifteen (15) ECOWAS member states today committed to providing comprehensive health services to vulnerable populations in West Africa. They finalized a declaration of their commitment at a meeting hosted by the Government of Senegal and organized by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the West Africa Health Organization.

“Experts recognize that controlling the epidemic in West Africa will require focus on populations that are under-served and at higher risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV, including vulnerable populations such as commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs,” noted USAID/West Africa Mission Director Alex Deprez. “We now know that in in countries (like India) where vulnerable populations have been prioritized, HIV prevalence in both the general and key populations has remained low with significant gains in reducing HIV nationally.”

HIV prevalence among reproductive-age adults in West Africa has declined significantly over the past 15 years with rates below 4 percent in all 15 ECOWAS countries, hovering around 1 percent in most. Although clear gains have been made, vulnerable populations in the region carry a disproportionate burden of HIV.

Today’s meeting brought together Ministers of Health, Justice Ministries staff, directors of national police forces, technical experts, donors and representatives of civil society organizations to review the HIV epidemic in the sub-region and its disproportionate impact on key populations.

Acknowledging that programs and policies must emphasize access to health services for vulnerable populations in order to reduce the burden and transmission of HIV in West Africa, official representatives of the ECOWAS member states signed the decree declaring their support for vulnerable populations programming as an essential pillar of their national HIV strategies in order to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.