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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs