Concern over Malawi’s high HIV prevalence rate among sex workers

United Nations Populations Fund Country representative Dr Dan Odallo, has expressed concern over high HIV prevalence rate among sex workers  in Malawi.

Sex workers
Sex workers

Odallo was speaking in Lilongwe during the one day workshop on sex workers rights and access to justice in achieving the 90:90:90 targets.

Pakachere Health and Development Communication organised the workshop in order to interact with Senior Police officers and find common solutions on the rights of sex workers.

Odallo said he was happy to witness the special briefing for Senior Police Officers on the how female sex workers can be accorded fair treatment so as to ensure that they can access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights within the context of the national response to HIV/AIDS.

“Although in the response to HIV/AIDS sex workers are often referred to as a key population at higher risk, sex work is in fact a job and not an identity, and while sex workers are overwhelmingly female, they are not the only ones in the sex in the sex industry, if I may say and in fact sex work cuts across social economic and geographical spheres of a country,” said Odallo.

Odallo said the term “sex worker” was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh and has now become the accepted definition of people in the sex industry.

“The term refers to people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, either regularly or occasionally. Sex work varies between and within countries and communities. Sex work may vary in the degree to which it is more or less formal or organized, and in the degree to which it is distinct from other social and sexual relationships and types of sexual economic exchange,” he said.

The UNFPA chief said the reason why sex work and SRH/HIV becomes important is because of both the buying and selling of unsafe sex.

Odallo said “Sex workers come in because commercial sex accounts for far more “risk acts” and has the potential to account for far greater numbers of new infections.

“If we are to arrest this situation, we need to tackle the problem of buying and selling of unsafe sex. Experts have recommended that HIV prevention programmes for sex workers should initially focus on achieving three main outcomes: – consistent and correct condom use and safer sex among sex workers and their clients and increased sex worker involvement and control over their working and social conditions.”

Pakachere Executive Director, Simon sikwese said there is need for the Police officers to recognise that sex workers are also human too so there is need to apply laws as they apply to anybody.

He commended UNFPA for funding the workshop which will help to orient police officers on sex workers rights.

Police Commissioner Demister Chigwenembe, said Police will make use of knowledge gained from the training.

“As Police we will apply the knowledge gained here in our day to day activities,” said Chigwenembe.

Last year, Malawi adopted the 90:90:90 approach set by Unaids which is aimed at ensuring that by 2030, 90 percent of People Living with HIV are identified, 90 percent of identified people living with HIV are initiated and retained on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and 90 percent viral suppression for ART patients is achieved.

National Aids Commission (NAC)  board of commissioners member, Albert Mkumbwa, said he was impressed with efforts by partners in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Said Mkumbwa: “I have noted that when you work effectively with the key population and acknowledge the needs that they  have, the response is overwhelming. Together we should indeed explore more ways on how we can reach out to the marginalised.”

The National Statistical Office 2014 Malawi Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey preliminary results put HIV prevalence among sex workers at 60 percent.

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