Malawi sex workers to get damages over forced HIV tests

Blantyre - A Malawi court has ruled that 11 prostitutes who were forced to take HIV tests by police six years ago will be awarded damages, a court official said on Thursday citing a judgment.

The sex workers were rounded up in 2009 in the southern city of Mwanza, hauled to a government hospital for HIV testing without their consent and the results were disclosed in an open court.

High court judge Dorothy Kamanga ordered that the prostitutes "should be compensated and file for compensation within 14 days", according to the ruling handed down on Wednesday and read out to AFP by a court clerk.

The judge said actions by both police and health workers in subjecting the women to forced HIV tests, and disclosing their status without their consent, were "irrational, unjust, unfair and unreasonable".

Victory for sex workers

"The authorities took advantage of the women being in police custody to force them to undergo the tests," she said.

The sex workers, who all tested positive for HIV and were set free after paying a fine equivalent to $7, sued the government for unfair action and violation of their privacy.

Chrispine Sibande, a lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, hailed the ruling as "a victory for sex workers who are usually abused every day".

The group will have to launch a separate court action to claim the damages.

Health experts estimate that there are around 20 000 sex workers in Malawi.

Up to 10% of Malawi's 15 million people are HIV-positive and 500 000 of them are receiving free life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.

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