During the global pandemic (COVID-19), which claimed several lives and continues to threaten the global economy, security, and overall stability, people who use drugs (PWUD), Sex Workers, persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) and other criminalised key populations who live in marginalised communities in West Africa faced additional risks and challenges than the general population.
They were especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of underlying health issues related to drug use, sexual behaviour, stigma, social marginalisation, and increased economic and social vulnerabilities.
It was also exceedingly challenging for PWUDs, SWs, persons who identify as LGBTQ and other criminalised key populations, especially those with substance use dependence and who lived in marginalised communities, to observe the preventative measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as social distancing, wearing of a mask, washing of hands and periodic lockdowns.
To improve pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, the World Health Assembly agreed in December 2021 to launch a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement, or other international instrument in accordance with the WHO Constitution. This international agreement was reached to prevent the spread of infectious diseases over the world.
Given their importance in pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, Harm Reduction International (HRI) supported the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) to create an equal opportunity for civil society organisations as well as affected persons to participate meaningfully in the drafting and negotiating processes, which are governed by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB).
This is to ensure further that PWUDs, SWs, persons who identify as LGBTQ and other criminalised key populations are given special consideration because they have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and related measures and because they typically have few opportunities to interact with national authorities.
The recommendations and issues raised in this document were inspired by the experiences and stories told by persons, especially from criminalised communities like people who use drugs, sex workers, and LGBTQI, from all 16 ECOWAS West Africa states of how they were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key issues and recommendations in this statement lay emphasis on two areas:
Inclusion (the representation and participation of affected communities), and
Criminalisation and its impact on access to health.