Women's Organisation Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) hosted their 4th annual National Sex Workers Conference (ASWC) at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala from Wednesday 11th November 2020 to Friday 13th November 2020. The gathering was supported by PITCH Uganda under the theme "Community Engagement for Increased Access to Services by Sex Workers Amidst the COVID 19 Pandemic: The Evidence Based Community Response."
The event which was both physical and streamed live via zoom brought together different stakeholders in dialogue with an aim of sharing new experiences, discussing evidence based research studies and interventions in response to challenges that the sex workers’ movement has faced in accessing services specially during the COVID19 pandemic in Uganda.
In her welcome remarks, the Executive Director of WONETHA Ms Natukunda Diana expressed her gratitude to all participants for their attendance. Ms Natukunda appreciated both partners and donors for their support towards the implementation of WONETHA's different programs. "We want to assure you as partners that we shall keep on improving and you’ll be proud of the progress," she said.
Ms Diana further appealed to key populations led organizations to make good use of the resources that they have mobilized and continue with the commitment to offer services as pledged to their respective communities. She also asked them to bring all their voices to a round table discussion so none is left behind. She asserted that this would play a big role in influencing decisions and policies that will positively impact their work through community engagements and dialogues.
Discussions and presentations were entirely based on the five key conference objectives which were;
- To share updates on the situation of HIV/AIDS among sex workers in the country
- To share experiences on community engagement from the different KP programs funders.
- To share knowledge and experiences from KP led programs that are tailored to the needs of key populations and their impact on improving the health outcomes for sex workers and key Populations
- To discuss new research findings on key populations particularly sex workers and explore their implications for future programming for sex workers in Uganda in light of the upcoming 21st edition of ICASA due to take place in Uganda.
- To recommend strategies for improving programming for key populations particularly sex workers in Uganda and forge mechanisms of access to services amidst the covid-19 challenges.
Dr Arthur Fritmoris from CDC who represented Dr Stella Alamo noted that the conference was a great opportunity to share experiences on health, social and economic programing for sex workers in Uganda especially with the current wave of COVID19 pandemic.
He also called for realignment of new strategies such as effective community engagements to reach populations with the greatest needs for services. "According to WONETHA's theme, the evidence for community reforms is very relevant for such situations. Sex Workers together with other KPs in Uganda and throughout the world have had a consistent history of misappropriate rates of HIV, gender based violence and mental health challenges," Dr Arthur stressed.
He further called for effective community engagement enhanced to the above provisions since it's critical for an AIDS free generation. He urged organizations influencing HIV and other health programs to embrace awareness of comprehensive HIV services like HIV self-testing kits, PEP and PrEP as well as proactively and sustainably involve the female sex workers' community and other marginalized women right from the program inception in line with the "nothing for us without us" principle.
Programs Director at WONETHA, Ms Prossy Namakula closed the event and gave a vote of appreciation to WONETHA's partners such as UNAIDS, UAC, CDC, IDI, MildMay, Uganda Police, HRAPF, UBUNTU, UGANET, MARPI, Kuchu Times and all KP community based organizations for their collaborations, support and promotion of their work and capacity building in programing.
To crown up the event, WONETHA rewarded Dr Alamo (CDC) and Dr Karusa (UNAIDS) with awards of appreciation in recognition for their contribution towards the growth, involvement and engagement of key populations organizations in advocacy, policy and decision making processes at national level.