The famous resort town of Kariba is grappling with a trend that is increasing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Sex workers have turned to trading their bodies for fish, jeopardising the Zimbabwean government’s ambitious goal of ending AIDS by 2030.
The National AIDS Council (NAC) expressed deep concern about this alarming phenomenon, which has gained traction in fishing camps scattered around the iconic Lake Kariba, renowned for its kapenta fishing.
Notable fishing camps affected by this rising trend include Gache Gache, Muchenga, Musamba, Ndomo, and Nyaodza.
Previously, prostitution had been prevalent in mining and farming communities. Kariba, situated on the border with its northern neighbour Zambia, has now become a hotspot for prostitution. The fisheries sector in the region is now identified as a key driver of HIV transmission.
“As the country strives to end AIDS by 2030, we must address the areas that drive new HIV infections,” said Bernard Madzima, CEO of the NAC.
“There is a new phenomenon where sex workers now cohabit with male fishermen in exchange for fish. Such living arrangements significantly increase the likelihood of unprotected sex.”
The NAC has trained 10 female peer sex workers and ten male peer fishermen to conduct HIV and AIDS peer education, as well as distribute condoms in Kariba.
“To tackle the root causes of the epidemic, the country has intensified interventions focused on social and behavioural change, condom promotion and distribution, alongside raising awareness about the correct and consistent use of condoms,” said Madzima.
Voluntary male circumcision, HIV testing services, and the prevention and control of STIs have also been ramped up. These comprehensive measures form part of a combination prevention approach.
Zimbabwe has set an ambitious target known as 95-95-95, which aims for 95% of people living with HIV to know their status, 95% of those aware of their status to receive treatment, and 95% of individuals on treatment to achieve suppressed viral loads.
Last year, Zimbabwe became the first African country and the third nation globally to approve injectable Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as an additional prevention method.