Wednesday, 11 May 2016

MPs meet sex workers

LAWMAKERS last week came face to face with key populations in the HIV and AIDS response in Ngundu and Beitbridge town, who gave the legislature an insight into challenges faced by key groups in protecting themselves against HIV.

The parliamentarians were on a four-day capacity building tour of Masvingo and Matabeleland South provinces organised by the National Aids Council (NAC) and its partners.

Key populations, including truck drivers and commercial sex workers implored parliamentarians to advocate for policies that address unique circumstances faced by key groups.

Ngundu in Masvingo, one of the busiest growth points in the country, lies along the Harare-Beitbridge road and has become a haven for sex work while in Beitbridge, the country’s busiest boarder post sex work is also rife.
MPs meet sex workers
One sex worker who identified herself as Erina from Ngundu shared with the lawmakers how they sometimes meet with violent men and several times they are sexually abused.

“I’m glad that we have finally met you our Members of Parliament. We are into sex work and that is what we do for a living. The job comes with so many challenges and because of the discrimination and criminalisation of sex work, we have nowhere to run to.

“We sometimes meet men who abuse us, for example one would have paid for a short time but will use force to sleep with you the whole night.

“Some don’t want to pay after sleeping with you and in most cases we are even attacked by violent clients.

“Our challenge is that we can’t even report our issues to the police because we are sex workers,” she said.
Erina’s colleagues from Ngundu and Beitbridge shared similar stories.

During their interactions with truckers in Beitbridge, the truckers chronicled challenges they faced in their line of work, which made them vulnerable to HIV.

“Our employers do not allow us to travel with our partners while we spend most our time at work. In most cases we can spend about two weeks while you wait for a load and with no entertainment in the truck, sex remains the only entertainment.

“Condom use can be very challenging especially with your ‘regular girl’ thus we are vulnerable to HIV,” one trucker who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

According to the United Nations AIDS programme (UNAIDS), sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drugs users, truckers have the highest risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.

While these groups are key in the management of HIV and AIDS, they have the least access to prevention, care and treatment services because their behaviours are often stigmatised and even criminalised.

While preliminary data reflected a decline in the national HIV prevalence from 15 percent to 13, 81 percent, HIV prevalence in sex workers is four times higher than the national one standing at 56, 4 percent.

NAC monitoring and evaluation director told the legislators that the country might not end AIDS by 2030 if the country’s key populations are not involved in HIV prevention programmes hence the need for a holistic approach.

“As you can see, HIV prevalence is really high in sex workers and that is really a cause of concern. While the national prevalence is going down, we have a really huge challenge that we can’t afford to ignore.

“There is a lot of communication between sex workers and those in stable relationships/marriages so we can’t sit back and relax. We have lots of problems affecting this group and so there is need to come up with ways of mitigating all these challenges.”
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