ABOUT 40 percent of sex workers in Zimbabwe are HIV-positive and have been subjected to some forms of stigma and discrimination which affects their health seeking behaviour.
According to Avert — an HIV and Aids data organisation — there are around 44 500 female sex workers in Zimbabwe.
Sex workers are part of key populations defined as groups who, due to specific higher-risk behaviour, are at increased risk of contracting or spreading HIV.
Key populations include young women, men who have sex with men, prisoners and people who inject drugs.
“There are around 44 500 female sex workers in Zimbabwe, around 40 percent of whom are living with HIV. This is concerning in an environment where sex work is illegal, condoms are being confiscated and gender inequality makes condom negotiation difficult. Despite this, some progress is being made; just under half, 44 percent of all sex workers are being reached with HIV prevention programmes,” says Avert.
“About 96 percent of sex workers reported using a condom with their most recent client. Around 93 percent of HIV-positive sex workers were aware of their status of whom 72 percent are on treatment.”
Avert added that sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV is exacerbated by police intimidation, harassment and arrest.
“This creates fear that stops sex workers from accessing health services. The Centre for Sexual Health, HIV and Aids Research (CeSHHAR) found that 20 percent of female sex workers in Zimbabwe had experienced violence from the police in one way or the other.
“Sex workers, and the organisations representing them, have minimal involvement in the Zimbabwean response to HIV. This marginalises them and prevents them from accessing services. Better inclusion of sex worker-led groups in HIV prevention initiatives would help improve the health of sex workers and the population as a whole.”
The organisation said stigma against people living with HIV and key populations could reverse gains that have been made in containing the disease.
“Stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV in Zimbabwe remains rife with one study finding that 65 percent of people living with HIV had experienced some form of discrimination due to their HIV status. The effects of stigma are far reaching as a majority of sex workers questioned said they avoid healthcare due to stigma and discrimination.” — @thamamoe