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Samantha Felix Samantha Felix

Video: How Cops Can Arrest the Spread of HIV

A report from the Open Society Foundations shows how collaborations among police officers, health experts and community groups can be key to long-term HIV prevention.

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Police officers across the globe are being urged to reconsider their role in the battle to prevent the spread of HIV. And new strategies to law enforcement that include harm reduction approaches could be just as critical to HIV prevention as needle exchanges and safe sex programs, according to a report by the Open Society Foundations.

Recent research finds that the number of people diagnosed with HIV worldwide is still growing, despite widespread knowledge on how to prevent HIV effectively. This is due, in part, to police officers acting as barriers to vulnerable people—like sex workers and people who use drugs—when they try to access health and social services. Sex workers and drug users report that cops often use condoms as evidence of prostitution, confiscate medications, and harass people at needle exchanges. Daniel Wolfe, director of the Open Society International Harm Reduction Program, calls for a new approach: “We can’t get arrest our way out of the HIV epidemic, but what we can do is support community police collaborations that actually change the way that law enforcement works.”

The good news is that in countries as far apart as Kenya and Kyrgyzstan, new partnerships are being formed among law enforcement, HIV experts, and community groups to educate police officers on harm reduction strategies that will direct vulnerable people towards valuable health services, instead of incarcerating them and perpetuating the problem.