In July 2012, sex workers from all over the world gathered at the ‘Sex Worker Freedom Festival: The Alternative IAC2012 Event (SWFF) for Sex Workers and Allies’ in Kolkata, India. During the festival, a space was created for and by positive sex workers who came together and discussed the additional needs and demands of being a sex worker living with HIV. These workshops were the beginning of NSWP+, a platform for positive sex workers and others committed to equal rights for sex workers living with HIV1
One of the initial advocacy priorities identified by NSWP+ was treatment access and joining the campaign against trade related restrictions and patents used by large pharmaceutical companies to make huge profits from essential medicines. Sex workers identified the need for accessible information on the trade frameworks that impact upon access to medicines for people living with HIV. The Access to Medicines Briefing Paper provides an overview of those trade frameworks and is designed specifically for sex workers and groups who wish to have a basic background in these issues in order to join the global campaign for access to medicines. These trade frameworks impact significantly on both the availability and affordability of treatment for many long-term, chronic conditions, including cancer and HIV/AIDS. This paper lays out the basics of trade-related matters and outlines how they potentially result in the lack of affordable and accessible medicines2 for people living with HIV. The impact of these trade rules has the potential to be devastating, and although sex workers already share a feeling of being ‘last in line for treatment’ sex workers wish to be included in the fight against trade-related barriers to universal access to health care.
Even so, HIV prevention efforts are being scaled up globally, to target sex workers as a key affected population in the HIV response. The voices and experiences of sex workers living with HIV are too often rendered invisible: this means that the additional needs and rights of sex workers living with HIV are often overlooked in forums that support the rights of general populations of people living with HIV. The Voices and Demands of Positive Sex Workers briefing paper sets out the demands of positive sex workers articulated by sex workers themselves.
NSWP committed to address this invisibility as an annual priority in 2012. Accordingly, initial consultation was carried out during the SWFF, and was sustained throughout the year through face-to-face meetings, Skype conversations, and continued communication through setting up and maintaining a global advisory group of sex workers living with HIV. During the SWFF, a space was created for and by positive sex workers to meet every day and participate in group workshops on a range of topics that were selected due to their impact on sex workers living with HIV. During these sessions, the sense of frustration and anger among positive sex workers increased in relation to issues such as abusive testing practices; mandatory registration of sex workers living with HIV; the lack of safe, non-judgmental spaces for accessing care and support; inequitable access to treatment and required diagnostics; forced/coercive sterilisation and termination of pregnancies; increased stigma when HIV positive and continuing to work as a sex worker, and the number of preventable deaths of sex workers and others living with HIV due to the impact of trade‑related matters and the growing monopoly of Intellectual Property Rights.