Police as agents of change in reducing HIV/AIDS stigma in Thailand

Sep 25, 2013

Recognizing the critical role of law enforcement agencies in the HIV response, UNDP Thailand has scaled up an innovative learning programme in partnership with the Royal Thai Police. The programme, known as the ‘Thai Police as Key Change Agents: The Innovative Learning Programme on HIV and Human Rights in the Context of Law Enforcement’, sensitizes law enforcement officers to issues concerning human rights, and stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and key affected populations (KAPs).  It also provides general knowledge regarding modes of transmission and HIV prevention.

The innovative programme builds upon an initiative started in mid-2012 between the Royal Thai Police, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Health, Foundation for AIDS Rights and UNDP, which focuses on educating junior police cadets. The scaled-up programme targets higher level police officers; a key factor in ensuring sustainable integration into the police training curriculum and law enforcement practices going forward in Thailand.

Considerable achievements have been made since the programme’s inauguration, including the:

signing of a Partnership Declaration between the Royal Thai Police, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Health, Foundation for AIDS Rights and UNDP

integration of the HIV-related anti-stigma and discrimination and human rights protection curriculum into the existing human rights training module provided to all junior police cadets

training of 40 police trainers of junior police cadets

In order to scale up the initiative, which now counts the Thailand Business Coalition on AIDS (TBCA) as a partner, a new learning programme has been specifically formulated for senior police officers. Development of the programme involved an assessment of the existing levels of knowledge and attitudes towards HIV related issues within the upper police ranks. Focus groups discussions were also held with 60 commissioned police officers from multiple levels.

The final package of learning content consists of 3 parts:

Part 1 – Basic knowledge of HIV (e.g. epidemic overview, modes of transmission, voluntary counselling and treatment (VCT), prevention, key affected populations, etc.)

Part 2 – Guidelines for police practices

HIV Policy and Management in the Workplace

Police practice and the implementation of HIV prevention

Part 3 – Training toolkits

The learning programme, launched in mid October 2013, will showcase initial results at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2013.

Design of the ‘Thai Police as Key Change Agents’ programme is grounded in key international declarations, UNAIDS’ 2011-2015 Strategy of Getting to Zero, the findings of the independent Global Commission on HIV and the Law and good practices of previously implemented law enforcement sensitization programmes.

The 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS emphasizes the need to implement programmes that “promote and protect human rights, including programmes aimed at eliminating stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV, including their families, including by sensitizing the police and judges, …  supporting national human rights learning campaigns, legal literacy and legal services, as well as monitoring the impact of the legal environment on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.”

According to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, traditional criminal justice systems and coercive law enforcement have undermined delivery of successful effective and equitable HIV prevention and treatment services. In particular, criminalization of HIV transmission as well as criminalization of some behaviours of the most vulnerable populations have discouraged people from undergoing HIV tests, disclosing their HIV status, and accessing essential health services. Law enforcement can contribute to positive changes in the lives of PLHIV and vulnerable groups through protection and promotion of equal rights and stigma and discrimination-free access to health care, employment, and education.

The Thailand programme follows the lead of initiatives from elsewhere in the region and beyond. It is increasingly becoming recognized that police must take an active, integral role in protecting human rights of PLHIV and key affected populations, curtailing the HIV epidemic, and promoting health security. Police officer activities often involve close interaction with members of the public and they are often the first responders to a range of complex situations involving criminal-, civil- or public health-related issues. Due to their respected and trusted position in society, police are well positioned to play a positive, contributing role.  Examples of law enforcement HIV programmes which fed into the design of the Thailand programme include: Project DISHA Jana Kalyan Kendra in India, Friendly Policemen for HIV Prevention Programmes in Kyrgyzstan, UNODC’s HIV training in prisons in Iran, Senegal’s initiative on police liaison to reduce violence within the men who have sex with men community and Thai sex worker organization SWING’s Police Cade Community Involvement Programme.