Sex workers: the unsung heroes in HIV fight?

“I DO not entertain clients who don’t value my health. I know many believe that we are ‘HIV carriers’ but that is not true. Sex work is just like any other profession that has its own hazards. I am into protected sex so that I protect myself,” said 32-year-old Mavis Mukora, a commercial sex worker who plies her trade in a number of Marondera’s nightclubs.

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA

Mukora is one of the many sex workers who have understood the effects of HIV and have adopted ways to prevent new infections.

Leaning against the bar counter, Mukora says she values her own health most, despite the huge payment that comes along with having unprotected sex. With a number of clients falling for her due to her gorgeous looks, some pledging lucrative amounts to have her without the use of condoms, but Mukora said she is a champion of fighting against HIV new infections.

“People think that being a commercial sex worker means that you have signed a death sentence. I value myself and a number of my clients know that. I am saving them and their families. Gone are the days of unprotected sex, most of us are now using protection. We do not entertain those who prefer unprotected sex,” she said.
Mukora said she is worried about how many young girls have become bait for the men who prefer unprotected sex.

Another CSW popularly known as Double Decker due to her big body frame said they are having problems with young girls who are “excited” and overwhelmed as soon as they join the world’s oldest profession.

“We are having a problem with young girls especially those new in the game. They accept any client and fall victim because of the love of money. Some of them do not even care about having protected sex. They even boast about it, that they are favourites. Some men prefer them because of their vulnerability. However, we give them condoms and teach them on the advantages of using protection,” she said while revealing a packet of condoms stashed into her bra.

NewsDay Weekender established that some commercial sex workers were now moving around with condoms, just in case their clients did not bring any.

Mashonaland East provincial aids co-ordinator Wilfred Dube said the older sex workers demanded safe sex because it was costly for them to treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“We have two types of commercial sex workers, the young ones and the old commercial sex workers. The young ones are those 12, 13 14, 15 and so on and then the old ones are those that have been in the profession for a long time and are almost tired of the profession,” he said.

“The older commercial sex workers are the ones who demand protection because they now appreciate the dangers of unprotected sex or have been infected by STIs before and have lost income through treatments and opportunity to make money during the time they were ill. These are the people who would say no condom, no sex, but they are a small group.”


Dube, however, said there were younger sex workers that still lacked information on STIs and HIV.

“There are also young sex workers who seek clients on their own and compete with the old sex workers. These young sex workers generally lack information about HIV and STIs and are more pushed to make money than think about their health. These people usually are not keen to come out in the open for fear of reprisal by the community and also the old sex workers who cannot stand the young sex worker competition,” he said.

“They are very popular with clients and these are the sex workers who play according to the client’s demands. If the client wants unprotected or oral sex, the sex workers will comply but demand more in terms of payment.”

NAC has done a lot of prevention activities targeting sex workers including sensitisation meetings with sex workers, the opening of night clinics for sex workers and truck drivers, establishment of peer educators for sex workers, and the recruitment of an NGO which specialises in sex workers to craft and implement programmes around sex workers.

However, despite the efforts by both sex workers and organisations to reduce new infections, the HIV prevalence rate among sex workers and other key populations is still higher than in the general population.

The UNAids Data Book 2017 notes the HIV prevalence among CSWs is at 57,1%.

Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children (ZNCWC) recently published a report that revealed that more than 90% of sexually exploited young girls have the knowledge of condoms.

“It is true that CSWs are now cautious as they are now well informed on HIV and Aids information with our research showing that 91,7% of the respondents demonstrated a high level of knowledge on HIV and Aids and 98,6% had the knowledge that correct and consistent condom use prevents transmission,” ZNCWC programmes officer Maxim Murungweni said.

The report titled Young Women in Commercial Sexual Exploitation along Two Transport Corridors in Zimbabwe says commercial sex workers now have their own peer educators in the form of retired adult colleagues, who are also empowering the young sex workers with information on HIV, especially along the transport corridors such as Ngundu and Beitbridge.

Katswe Sistahood director Talent Jumo said sex workers should be celebrated for their important role in promoting safe sex.

“Firstly sex workers are mothers, sisters, daughters who are taking care of whole families. Many men out there make women pregnant and disappear, they do not pay maintenance or provide for their children. Hence the women end up selling their bodies to fend for themselves and their children,” she said.

“Many clients will insist on unprotected sex but because sex workers know they have to protect themselves and their clients, they insist on condom use. Sex workers come to our workshops, learn about condom use and we have many who are champions for safer sex. They collect and distribute condoms among their peers. They are our champions in HIV prevention because they are bold and can openly discuss sexual matters.” Jumo added that the older sex workers are working as guardians to younger ones and less experienced sex workers.

Meanwhile new HIV infections in Zimbabwe fell by 3,1% during the first three quarters of 2016 as patients embraced anti-retroviral drugs and adhered to prescriptions.

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