Risking Death to Stay Alive


Risking Death to Stay Alive

The XIV International AIDS Conference, July 11, 2002


A third of all women canvassed at three ante-natal clinics in a study in Soweto, South Africa, admitted to having had “transactional sex” in return for food, clothing, transportation, school fees, cash or gifts for their children – and were HIV positive.


In Uganda, a law prohibiting any form of prostitution has led to an increasing vulnerability among sex workers to HIV-AIDS through violence, rape and other forms of sexual and human rights abuse by clients and security personnel.


These were some of the key findings reported by researchers delivering papers in a session entitled, “Turning Tricks: Sex Work and AIDS.”


Violence was found to play a key role in both cases.


University of Michigan epidemiologist Kristina Dunkle, who is working for the Gender and Health Group of South Africa’s Medical Research Council, reported that many of the respondents taking these risks had a history of violence in their partnerships.


Dr Simon Sentumbwe, Director of Kampala’s Centre of Peace Research, said that 56% of 500 commercial sex workers his team interviewed believed that the penal code played a role in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.


They said that this happened when they were forced into unprotected sex by clients (84%), that they had no legal recourse to rape and abuse (70%) and that the law itself undermined efforts to design and implement interventions among prostitutes (22%).


None of the 1,395 Sowetans perceived themselves as sex workers. They said they saw themselves as leading ordinary lives, doing the best they could to survive and feed their children.


Among the 64% of women who reported ever taking casual partners, those who reported hunger in their households were more likely to report transactional encounters.


In another presentation to the session, Augustine Ankomah of the Society for Family Health in highly religious Nigeria conducted focus groups in eight brothels in four cities and found the faith of sex workers to have potentially lethal consequences.


He said they believed that they would never get infected because of their faith and dismissed condoms as irrelevant because “only God can protect an individual from infection.”


A related finding was a strong belief in predestination and that those who would die from AIDS had already been numbered, so taking preventative measures made no sense when one’s fate had already been decided by God.


AIDS 2002 Conference News produced by Health & Development Networks/Key Correspondent Team




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