Paidamoyo Chipunza Health Reporter
THE Centre for Sexual Health, HIV and Aids Research (CeSHHAR) has registered 12 383 sex workers throughout the country between the ages of 12 and 60 years since 2009. Of these women, 10 445 have been treated for sexually transmitted diseases, while 2 132 tested positive for HIV and have since been referred for anti-retroviral treatment.
Each of the women entertains a maximum of 12 men a day when business is high in some instances without using protection for a higher fee.
Sex work programme co-ordinator with CeSHHAR Ms Sibongile Mtetwa said these figures were just a tip of the iceberg as these were only figures of women who have come out in the open, while the majority still operated in their closets.
“Sex work is common and sex workers are at increased risk of HIV but less likely to access prevention and treatment services,” she said.
Against this background, CeSHHAR is working on a programme dubbed Sisters with a Voice to reduce HIV infection among sex workers, reduce HIV transmission to their clients and improving the rights of sex workers.
Under the programme, sex workers are given access to health services when they contract STIs, contraception and other related health services.
Ms Mtetwa said the programme started with five sites, but is now operating in 27 sites countrywide.
She said CeSHHAR is planning to open more sites to ensure that they reach out to all sex workers.
“The overall goal is to improve respect, protection and upholding of sex workers’ rights to promote their universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.”
In separate interviews with The Herald, some of the sex workers claimed that they failed to access health care from public health institutions as they were stigmatised for their work.
“It is difficult if you are a sex worker to seek treatment for an STI from a public health institution because your sickness is announced to everyone who cares to listen.
“This discourages us from seeking services in these institutions and most of us turn to traditional ways of treating STIs,” said a sex worker from Gwanda who identified herself as Scotchy.
She said accessing condoms from these institutions was also difficult as nurses called them names, making them uncomfortable in the presence of other women.
The sex workers, however, agreed that their means of survival was risky as some clients preferred unprotected sex and paid more for this.
“We also have problems with these men, especially soldiers who are circumcised who refuse to use protection saying they are safe from getting HIV,” she said.
UNFPA programme analyst Mr Samson Chidiya said sex workers were key in fighting HIV considering that 72 percent of HIV acquisition in Zimbabwe was through heterosexual contact.
“HIV prevention among sex workers is not the same as promotion of sex work, it means protecting the sex workers, their clients, partners of their clients and infants born to partners of clients,” he said.
He said Zimbabwe needed to accept that sex work existed.
Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence rate stands at 13,7 percent and sex workers are among high risk groups.