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Africa's Sex Workers Have Hard Time Leaving Streets

Even in African countries with overall low HIV infection rates, sex workers are many more times likely to carry the virus. In this second part of a five-part series on the most vulnerable groups to HIV infection in Africa, Phuong Tran reports from Dakar on one woman's search for a way to get out of sex work and the money that keeps her in it.

Marie and other sex workers choose their sections of a popular street corner in Dakar to find customers.

"This is against the law to pick up customers on the street," she says. "But it is worth it for me to take the risk the police might pick me up because this is where the money is."

Marie is 41 years old, and says she can make up to $100 a month, on good months. She has worked as a full time sex worker for almost 20 years after she left an abusive marriage with no money.

She turned to what she says was easy money in sex work.

Ndeye Astou Diop, president of Aboya, a non-profit that works with HIV positive women, says this economic desperation makes sex workers even more powerless in the fight against AIDS.

"Sex workers have told us that when they ask a client to use a condom, he offers to double the price to have sex without the condom. These women are trying to provide for their children and families, so they take the offer," Diop says.

About 20 percent of Senegal's sex workers are HIV positive despite the government's annual HIV testing requirement for sex workers ages 21 and over.

She knows the risks, but Marie says it is hard to turn down money and leave the streets.

"We know a lot of about sexually-transmitted diseases and about AIDS," Marie says. "We are all afraid that one day we will become HIV positive or sick from AIDS. We would love to get out of this work, but we do not have the money to walk away."

Marie works two days a week at Awa, a non-profit that provides health services to sex workers.

But she says the money is not enough to leave sex work completely.