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Key populations and human rights in the context of HIV services rendition in Ghana

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      BackgroundIn line with its half century old penal code, Ghana currently criminalizes and penalizes behaviors of some key populations – populations deemed to be at higher risk of acquiring or transmitting Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Men who have sex with men (MSM), and sex workers (SWs) fit into this categorization. This paper provides an analysis of how enactment and implementation of rights-limiting laws not only limit rights, but also amplify risk and vulnerability to HIV in key and general populations. The paper derives from a project that assessed the ethics sensitivity of key documents guiding Ghana’s response to its HIV epidemic. Assessment was guided by leading frameworks from public health ethics, and relevant articles from the international bill of rights.DiscussionGhana’s response to her HIV epidemic does not adequately address the rights and needs of key populations. Even though the national response has achieved some public health successes, palpable efforts to address rights issues remain nascent. Ghana’s guiding documents for HIV response include no advocacy for decriminalization, depenalization or harm reduction approaches for these key populations. The impact of rights-restricting codes on the nation’s HIV epidemic is real: criminalization impedes key populations’ access to HIV prevention and treatment services. Given that they are bridging populations, whatever affects the Ghanaian key populations directly, affects the general population indirectly.SummaryThe right to the highest attainable standard of health, without qualification, is generally acknowledged as a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, this right currently eludes the Ghanaian SW and MSM. The paper endorses decriminalization as a means of promoting this right. In the face of opposition to decriminalization, the paper proposes specific harm reduction strategies as approaches to promote health and uplift the diminished rights of key populations. Thus the authors call on Ghana to remove impediments to public health services provision to these populations. Doing so will require political will and sufficient planning toward prioritizing HIV prevention, care and treatment programming for key populations.

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      Most cited references 39

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      Men who have sex with men: stigma and discrimination.

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        People who use drugs, HIV, and human rights.

        We reviewed evidence from more than 900 studies and reports on the link between human rights abuses experienced by people who use drugs and vulnerability to HIV infection and access to services. Published work documents widespread abuses of human rights, which increase vulnerability to HIV infection and negatively affect delivery of HIV programmes. These abuses include denial of harm-reduction services, discriminatory access to antiretroviral therapy, abusive law enforcement practices, and coercion in the guise of treatment for drug dependence. Protection of the human rights of people who use drugs therefore is important not only because their rights must be respected, protected, and fulfilled, but also because it is an essential precondition to improving the health of people who use drugs. Rights-based responses to HIV and drug use have had good outcomes where they have been implemented, and they should be replicated in other countries. Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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          Common roots: a contextual review of HIV epidemics in black men who have sex with men across the African diaspora.

          Pooled estimates from across the African diaspora show that black men who have sex with men (MSM) are 15 times more likely to be HIV positive compared with general populations and 8·5 times more likely compared with black populations. Disparities in the prevalence of HIV infection are greater in African and Caribbean countries that criminalise homosexual activity than in those that do not criminalise such behaviour. With the exception of US and African epidemiological studies, most studies of black MSM mainly focus on outcomes associated with HIV behavioural risk rather than on prevalence, incidence, or undiagnosed infection. Nevertheless, black MSM across the African diaspora share common experiences such as discrimination, cultural norms valuing masculinity, concerns about confidentiality during HIV testing or treatment, low access to HIV drugs, threats of violence or incarceration, and few targeted HIV prevention resources. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1937 1485, GRID grid.8652.9, Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, , School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of Ghana, ; Box LG 13, Legon, Accra Ghana
            [2 ]ISNI 0000000419368657, GRID grid.17635.36, Center for Bioethics, , University of Minnesota, ; 410 Church Street S.E MN, Minneapolis, 55455-0346 USA
            BMC Int Health Hum Rights
            BMC Int Health Hum Rights
            BMC International Health and Human Rights
            BioMed Central (London )
            2 August 2017
            2 August 2017
            : 17
            © The Author(s). 2017

            Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

            Funded by: The HIV Research Trust Fund of United Kingdom; and the Ghana AIDS Commission, Accra, Ghana.
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            © The Author(s) 2017

            Health & Social care

            health rights, ghana, key populations, hiv, negative rights, positive rights


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