Police Become Allies in Protecting Key Populations

Participants gather at a violence prevention and response action planning workshop with representatives of the government, health facilities, and local partner organization, ASCAM, in Luanda, Angola.

In 2017, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a principal recipient of Global Fund (GF) funding for HIV at the request of the Government of Angola, approached MSH, the implementer of LINKAGES, with an offer to complement the minimum service package for female sex workers (FSW) in Luanda Province. Based on unmet need, it was agreed that with complementary funding from UNDP/GF, MSH would: 1) integrate gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and care to the existing HIV service package delivered at hot spots; 2) adapt the training methodology on law enforcement from LINKAGES to train police chiefs and officers; and 3) work with FSWs to introduce empowerment and rights-based approaches into their trainings.

It was in this context that MSH’s local partner, the Associação de Solidariedade & Ajuda Mútua (ASCAM), met with municipal and district police commands to discuss topics such as HIV, the link between HIV and violence, human rights, and how power imbalance contributes to assault against key populations. 

[Bernardo Lutezo Kionga from ASCAM addresses a group of police at Zango District Police Station.]Bernardo Lutezo Kionga from ASCAM addresses a group of police at Zango District Police Station.

After the trainings, female sex workers reported that they felt more protected by police in areas where the sensitizations took place: “They don’t bother us,” said an FSW. “I heard from a police officer that they know we are just doing our work, which is not a crime.”

In October 2018, for example, ASCAM was conducting training at the Futungo District Police Station in Talatona Municipality when the commander said he knew of some nearby hot spots that were unknown to ASCAM. The police and ASCAM visited the hot spots and ASCAM found a large number of sex workers who had never received HIV services.

During the prevention and rapid HIV testing services that ASCAM offered, nine sex workers were identified as HIV positive. Subsequently, ASCAM outreach workers supported them to begin antiretroviral treatment (ART) at public health facilities. Eight of them began ART.

The experience with Futungo District police shows that sensitized police are a key player in the fight against HIV and providing protection for key populations.

Since 2017, ASCAM held meetings with police in the municipalities of Cazenga, Cacuaco, Kilamba Kiaxi, Viana, Luanda and Talatona, sensitizing 523 police officers.

By September 2019, a total of 24,975 female sex workers at food trucks, bars, on the street, and in brothels in Luanda Province had received ASCAM services. ASCAM identified 982 cases of HIV, and 80 percent went on to receive ART. At least 355 assaults were documented and referred to Mulheres Abençoadas, the psychosocial empowerment and support group that MSH and ASCAM created with sex workers.

The Linkages across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV (LINKAGES) project, a global cooperative agreement led by FHI 360, was implemented in Angola by MSH in partnership with civil society organizations (CSOs), government stakeholders, and key population (KP) individuals, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). 

ASCAM envisions an Angola where everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life, to feel integrated into society, and to have a voice. It was founded in Luanda in 1989 to promote the improvement of the physical, intellectual, social, and moral conditions necessary for human development.