Introduction: Globally, over half of the estimated new HIV infections now occur among key populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgender individuals, and people in prisons and other closed settings, and their sexual partners. Reaching epidemic control will, for many countries, increasingly require intensified programming and targeted resource allocation to meet the needs of key populations and their sexual partners. However, insufficient funding, both in terms of overall amounts and the way the funding is spent, contributes to the systematic marginalization of key populations from needed HIV services.
Discussion: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has recently highlighted the urgent need to take action to end inequalities, including those faced by key populations, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these inequalities and improve health outcomes, key population programs must expand the use of a trusted access platform, scale up differentiated service delivery models tailored to the needs of key populations, rollout structural interventions and ensure service integration. These critical program elements are often considered "extras," not necessities, and consequently costing studies of key population programs systematically underestimate the total and unitary costs of services for key populations. Findings from a recent costing study from the LINKAGES project suggest that adequate funding for these four program elements can yield benefits in program performance. Despite this and other evidence, the lack of data on the true costs of these elements and the costs of failing to provide them prevents sufficient investment in these critical elements.
Conclusions: As nations strive to reach the 2030 UNAIDS goals, donors, governments and implementers should reconsider the true, but often hidden costs in future healthcare dollars and in lives if they fail to invest in the community-based and community-driven key population programs that address structural inequities. Supporting these efforts contributes to closing the remaining gaps in the 95-95-95 goals. The financial and opportunity cost of perpetuating inequities and missing those who must be reached in the last mile of HIV epidemic control must be considered.
Keywords: Africa; HIV care continuum; community; differentiated care; key and vulnerable populations; structural interventions.
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.