22 October 2012

Tanzania: Unsafe Sex Rampant - Study

A RECENT survey by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare shows that prostitutes or Female Sex Workers (FSW) in Dar es Salaam attract more than 15,000 men a day and half of them prefer unprotected sex at a higher price.

And the business involving at least 5,000 to 10,000 female commercial sex workers fetches between 50,000/- and 200,000/- a month depending on the 'value' of the worker. According to "HIV Behavioural and Biological Surveillance Survey among Female Sexual Workers in Dar es Salaam," conducted in 2010 and launched at the weekend, many FSW manage to 'sleep' with at least five men a day while condom use being less consistent.

But to make it even worrying is that three in every ten FSW have contracted HIV while more than 10 in every 100 have Sexual Transmitted Diseases (STI) including the deadly Hepatitis B and C. Illiteracy and poverty among many FSW is reported as the main contributing factors behind the risky business which left more than 30 per cent of the estimated 7,500 of them to contract HIV-AIDS but haven't retired from the business.

The survey showed further that 72 per cent of the FSW had attended some or completed primary education, while 19.4 per cent had some or completed secondary education and seven per cent have no any formal education. According to the survey, HIV prevalence among FSW was higher than that of Dar es Salaam women general population aged between 15 and 49 whose prevalence was 10.4 per cent.

The report also shows the prevalence of syphilis among female sex workers at 2.0 per cent, Hepatitis B virus (6.3 per cent), Hepatitis C virus (3.4 per cent), gonorrhea (10.5 per cent), chlamydia (6.3 per cent), T. Vaginalis (4.2 per cent), candidiasis (8.0 per cent), as well as other sexually transmitted infections (27.3 per cent).

According to the survey, 96.3 per cent of the FSWs used condoms when meeting their clients, while only 31.6 per cent used a condom when they met their steady partner. Launching the report, the Acting Director of Preventive Services in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Mr Elias Chinamo, said new strategies are needed to address the situation.

He said the government was working on various options on how effectively the problem can be eliminated, but said it was too early to buy an idea that the business be legalised apart from the fact it was now almost beyond normal control."The situation being how it is today, the decision to legalise this activity is debatable although it doesn't sound wise for the time being," he said on Friday.

According to Mr Chinamo, law enforcement authorities particularly the Police Force should now come with a different strategies of dealing with FSW instead of chasing and arresting them. Commenting on the findings, the Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Donnan Mmbando said the government was committed to improving the health of every Tanzanian including sex workers.

"The ministry will work with local and international stakeholders and funding organisations to implement or respond to the recommendations of this report," he said. The US based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemiology and Surveillance Team Leader, Dr Mary Kibona, said due to the seriousness of the HIV prevalence in the country, the US has extended its support to realise the permanent war on the same.

She said already the US government has decided for the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) programme to work on permanent basis, instead of emergency arrangement as earlier planned when it was incepted.

"Due to the magnitude of HIV situation in the country, stakeholders' outlook like FEPFAR have now changed and will now operate permanently to contribute in eliminating this vice," she said.

The investigation and survey involved the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), CDC, Global Control Programme of Tanzania and Atlanta Georgia and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as well as University Technical Assistance Project, California.

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