The New Times (Kigali)

12 November 2012

Rwanda: HIV Infection At 51 Percent Among Sex Workers

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
A sex worker (file photo).

At least 51 percent of sex workers in Rwanda are infected with HIV, according to the latest report by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC).

The research was carried out in all provinces of the country at the different sex workers' hot spots, according to Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the coordinator of HIV and STIs Care and Treatment department.

The research was the first of its kind conducted by Rwanda Biomedical Centre, according to Dr Nsanzimana.

The high HIV prevalence among sex workers is mostly due to high exposure to unprotected sex, Dr Nsanzimana said.

He stated that a special package of services for female sex workers has been defined by RBC which includes a new guideline developed to ensure prevention and treatment for sex workers.

"We are evaluating the issue of sex workers and their clients to give better health services and control HIV infection amongst them. We are also carrying out high level advocacy for improving the lives of ex- sex workers through establishing associations/cooperatives for them to do some other work to help them fend for themselves and improve their livelihoods," Dr Nsanzimana said.

He added that a new study is planned next year, which will be followed by an assessment of whether the current efforts geared at reducing new infections among female sex workers are effective.

A woman who gave her name only as Chantal, is one of the sex workers residing in the suburbs of Kigali.

She says they (sex workers) are stigmatised by society which is one of the reasons they get infected with HIV.

"When am dressed ready for my trade and I go to buy condoms, people look at me in awe like am disgusting which discourages me. So sometimes I end up having sex without protection. Sometimes, some of the clients with a lot of money prefer sex without protection," she told this paper yesterday.

Chantal appealed to authorities to ensure that condom dispensers located in night spots in town are fully stocked since they are the easiest way for them to access condoms.

Dr Afflodis Kagaba, the Executive Director of Health Development Initiative (HDI), said sex workers are a high risk group since they have multiple partners.

He added that some of them are also desperate and so they end up trading their bodies without protection.

Sex workers are also marginalised at community level which makes it hard for them to access health education and services so they end up practicing secretly and silently.

Dr Kagaba advised that in order to deal with the challenge of high HIV infection rates among sex workers, there's need for adequate health education and prevention services such as access to condoms for sex workers.

"Sex work in Rwanda should also be given a more legal environment because the fact that its criminalised makes it hard to access the sex workers. Criminalisation also makes them feel marginalised, vulnerable and therefore making it hard for them to access health services and condoms thus leading to high HIV infection rates," he said.

Dr Kagaba also noted that rights' awareness for sex workers would also help a great deal because once they know their rights then they can report any case of violence such as being forced into sex without protection.

Offering sex workers other income generating activities is another solution, according to Kagaba, since poverty drives some of them to the streets.

Other figures also indicate that there are about 15,792 known female sex workers in 752 sites countrywide.

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