15 March 2017

South Africa: National Sex Worker HIV Plan to Fight New Infections

Photo: Abhi Indrarajan/AIDS Society
(File photo).

Cape Town — Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says the National Sex worker HIV plan is important if South Africa is to win the fight against new HIV infections.

The Deputy President said this when he went to the National Council of Provinces for the first time this year to field oral questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) on Wednesday.

The National Sex Worker HIV plan was launched in 2016.

"Our national effort to arrest new HIV infections will not succeed if sex workers are disempowered, if they are also stigmatised and marginalised.

"At the centre of this plan is a peer education programme, in which participates up to 1000 peer educators who are going to be recruited to provide support as well as assistance to around 70 000 sex workers in our country over a three year period," he said.

The Deputy President said this when responding to a question by Tandi Mpambo-Sibhukwana, a DA Western Cape MP from the Western Cape, who asked how the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) would reach sex workers to roll out the plan given that prostitution in South Africa is illegal.

In his response, the Deputy President said the plan was about affirming the rights of all South Africans to life, dignity and to healthcare, regardless of their occupation or even their circumstances.

He said Section 27 of the country's Constitution guaranteed the right of access to healthcare for all and explicitly includes the right to reproductive healthcare.

"This places what I would call a responsibility on the state to ensure that sex workers, like any other South African or a member of the society, are able access healthcare services, support and information and essentially this plan is also about public health with HIV prevalence rates which are three to four times higher amongst female sex workers than amongst women in the general population.

"This plan goes beyond the provision of targeted healthcare services. It also addresses issues of violence, stigma, alcohol and drug abuse. It also touches on other important and sensitive matters such as depression, social isolation, forced migration and also lack of economic participation," he said.

The Deputy President also said that the plan would also sensitise healthcare providers in the same manner that other state agencies like law enforcement and social workers were sensitised.

"The fact that sex work is seen as an occupation that is criminalised - and I should say here - the law commission is still dealing with this matter.

"But this does not mean that the rights of sex workers to healthcare and other basic services is disregarded. The fact that sex workers have such a high HIV prevalence makes it particularly important that we implement targeted programmes that will have a meaningful impact on this epidemic.

"We will never be able to end AIDS in our country unless we dramatically reduce HIV, TB and STI transmission amongst sex workers and other vulnerable groups in our country."

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