News / Africa

Sex Workers Seek HIV Prevention

The Lancet has published a new series warning an AIDS-free generation is impossible unless the disease is tackled among sex workers.
The Lancet has published a new series warning an AIDS-free generation is impossible unless the disease is tackled among sex workers.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua

A new series in the medical journal The Lancet says achieving an AIDS-free generation will not be possible unless the human rights of sex workers are recognized. Researchers say sex workers face violence and discrimination and are not able to access the care, treatment and prevention measures they need.

Listen to De Capua report on HIV and sex workers
Listen to De Capua report on HIV and sex workersi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

The Lancet articles say people who sell sex – whether in high or low income countries -- “face a disproportionate risk and burden of HIV.” These include women, men and transgenders. Much of the problem, the authors said, has to do with “repressive and discriminatory law, policy and practice.”

The series was presented at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Linda-Gail Bekker is one of the authors. She’s a professor of medicine and deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Center at the University of Cape Town.

She said, “Sex is something that all of us need to do as human beings. We’re designed this way. This is what we’re about. And if this is the way HIV is transmitted then we need to just kind of face that -- and address that in such a way that people can continue to live their lives in ways that are sustainable, but we can protect them at the same time.”

She said those in the profession prefer the term sex worker rather than prostitute.

“The community is wanting to think of themselves as doing regular work. And I think that’s in an effort to be recognized as individuals, who have dignity and are making a living. And work towards decriminalization of the profession.”

Professor Bekker said that sex workers are a marginalized community.

“There is huge stigma and discrimination that goes with that. And as a result people find themselves on the fringe of communities – on the fringe of humanity.”

Their activities are driven underground. She said they often do not have access to condoms, lubricants, HIV testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

“As a result,” she said, “they become incredibly at risk for HIV acquisition. This virus is a non-discriminator of human beings and it preys upon vulnerable individuals.”

Much of the violence sex workers face comes from police.  The very people, Bekker said, who are supposed to protect. She says sex workers often face stigma and discrimination when they go to health clinics.

“What I say as a public health individual is that I’m not here to decide on what people should or shouldn’t be doing. What I need to do is use the tools at my disposal to make sure that individuals are protected from viruses, particularly when I’ve got the tools to enable that,” she said.

Those tools now include PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, whereby antiretroviral drugs are taken to prevent initial HIV infection. Also, new microbicides, or vaginal gels, are being developed that contain HIV blocking drugs.

Bekker said that the old ABC approach is no longer good enough.

“I don’t know what planet we were on when we thought this was going to be as simple as telling people to abstain. You know, hello. Be faithful or simply condomize. Now, condoms are great. But it’s clear that that’s a hard thing for people to do year in and year out.”

She said a successful HIV prevention and treatment program must include community mobilization that has input from sexworkers. Such programs have been effective in Thailand and India. Professor Bekker said they should include peer education and voluntary counseling and testing.

The Lancet series calls prevention programs for sex workers an “urgent international priority…backed-up by appropriate levels of funding from international and national health programs.” 

You May Like

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down nearly three percent, while US market indexes were off around two percent in early trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs