By Robert Tapfumaneyi
AT least 50 percent of sex workers in Zimbabwe are carrying the deadly HIV virus, a United Nations report has revealed.
According to the report, at least 90% of sex workers in Southern Africa are female, although selling sex is also common among men who have sex with men and transgender people.
“More than half of all sex workers in Zimbabwe are living with HIV latest UNAIDS HIV and Women.
“This is concerning in an environment where condoms are being confiscated and gender inequality makes condom negotiation difficult,” the report tilted HIV and Women 2017 reads in part.
“In some cases, sex workers have no access to condoms or are unaware of their importance.”
However, the report acknowledges that progress has been made and the number of sex workers reached with HIV prevention programmes in Zimbabwe has more than doubled in recent years, from 7,300 in 2014 to 16,900 in 2015.
The practice is illegal in Zimbabwe and police often round-up sex workers on charges of “loitering for purposes of prostitution” in the streets.
“This exacerbates sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV as fear of arrest often stops sex workers from accessing health services,” the report added.
In 2015, a group of sex workers brought a case before the High Court against police which ruled in their favour on the basis that authorities had failed to prove their case because there was no client.
Findings on police harassment and abuse by the Centre for Sexual Health, HIV and AIDS Research in 2016 revealed that 20% of female sex workers in Zimbabwe experienced violence from the police in 2015.
“In addition, the possession of condoms is used as proof of sex work, with many sex workers reportedly being arrested due to their work, or having their condoms confiscated.
“This hampers sex workers’ ability to negotiate condom use with clients, heightening their risk of HIV,” UNAIDS said.
The report also says that sex workers and the organisations representing them have minimal involvement in the Zimbabwean response to HIV programmes.
“This marginalises them and prevents them from accessing services,” says the report.
“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.”