Stigmatised Zim sex workers ignore condoms despite Aids risk

2015-09-10 17:55


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bulawayo - In the heart of Bulawayo's central business district, a group of young women lurk below the giant jacaranda trees that shut out the street lights, daubing their faces with makeup and adjusting their short skirts.

It is just 19:00, businesses have closed, and what remains of nightlife in Zimbabwe's second city begins to stir, including prostitution - illegal, risky because of the high rates of HIV/Aids, but still a draw for young women facing high unemployment.

Susan, in her early 20s, is selling sex on the street and in nearby bars. Declining to give her full name, she says she doesn't use a condom, despite the risk of infection, because she earns more from unprotected sex.

"Every girl I know here is doing it, no need to lie about it," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, wearing a strong deodorant and assuming an air of sophistication.

Susan is one of thousands of young women turning to sex work in a country where the economy is in tatters, hit by unemployment, drought and controversial land reforms.

The risks are immense: one in five sex workers are HIV positive, the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/Aids Research (CeSHHAR) said earlier this month.

Legal and reproductive health services

Few sex workers get the treatment they need because they are stigmatised in health centres, undermining efforts to reduce HIV prevalence, according to the centre, a Zimbabwean charity providing legal and reproductive health services.

The southern African country has one of the world's largest HIV epidemics, with almost 17% of 15- to 49-year-olds living with the disease, according to Unaids.

At least 1.6 million out of 13 million Zimbabweans are HIV positive, the majority of them women, it said.

HIV campaigners have taken their safe sex messages to hotspots like long distance trucker stopovers and small semi-urban centres, but change has yet to take root in city centres where young women like Susan operate.

"Sex workers in Zimbabwe continue to be a key population where intensive HIV prevention efforts are needed," said UNAIDS Country Director for Zimbabwe Michael Bartos.

"While there is a national sex worker programme in Zimbabwe, continuing high rates of HIV transmission among sex workers suggest that its implementation has not been sufficiently successful."

Sex work illegal, HIV rife

Globally, female sex workers are 14 times more likely to have HIV than other women, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Sex work is illegal in Zimbabwe, which makes it hard to reach this vulnerable population.

Medical staff, particularly in government hospitals and clinics, accuse sex workers of spreading HIV/Aids and call them abusive names, making them reluctant to seek care, CeSHHAR said.

Almost half the 52 000 sex workers who have visited CeSHHAR's clinics since 2009 required treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.

One in five of the 52 000 started selling their bodies as teenagers, it said.

Zinhle, who describes herself as a "veteran prostitute", solicits for business in a working-class neighbourhood tavern.

"I tell my clients I am HIV positive," she said, declining to give her full name. "It's up to them whether they want to use condoms or not. I don't care."

Experts have highlighted pubs and bars as places where people engage in risky sex after drinking alcohol - which is also linked to poor adherence to Aidsdrugs.

More must be done to ensure that sex workers, gay men, injecting drug users, prisoners and transgender women receive HIV prevention, testing and treatment if the world is to end the epidemic, experts say.

Men who have sex with men are also excluded from services in Zimbabwe, Bartos said, because of cultural taboos and the criminalisation of homosexuality.

Yet the attitude of many young people in the city to sex and AIDS remains one of complacency.

"There's no one who doesn't know there is Aids," said Thomas Ndlovu, who pays for sex but declined to say whether he uses condoms.

"We all have to die some time."

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  health  |  southern africa  |  hiv

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.


24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.