Malawi sex workers fear HIV testing – report

A sex work situation analysis report has revealed that sex workers (SWs) are afraid of undergoing HIV testing for fear of the consequences of being found HIV positive.

The report which was launched in Lilongwe on Wednesday says the culture of silence is one of the contributing factors to shunning HIV testing among SWs apart from the fear of being found positive.

It captures the voices, perceptions, views and experiences of close to 950 sex workers, along with clients and other stakeholders in a situation analysis on the magnitude, behavior patterns, contributing factors, current interventions and impact of sex work in HIV prevention in Malawi.

Flashback: Malawi sex workers holding a demo

“Qualitative findings show that most SWs are afraid of HIV testing. Another issue that came out prominently was the culture of silence among SWs as they do not discuss or talk to each other about HIV testing and counseling (HTC),” reads the report in part.

Those who know their status are reported to have done so because they fell pregnant and were required to have an HIV test as a prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) requirement or because of frequent illnesses and deterioration of health.

Currently, pregnant women are required to undergo HIV testing as one way of preventing mother to child transmission.

As such, the majority of SWs interviewed said there should be compulsory HTC as well as regular sexually transmitted infections (STIs) screening among sex workers.

“On what should be done on sex work in Malawi, the majority (79.3%) mentioned legalization, 2.9% mentioned compulsory HTC, 1.4% mentioned compulsory and regular screening for STIs among sex workers and 1% said there should be deliberate efforts to deliver HIV and AIDS messages at places where sex workers live and frequent,” reads the report.

Currently, the Malawi AIDS Counseling and Resource Organization (MACRO) is implementing a Moonlight HTC which targets sex workers in places they frequent. The service is done at night hence the name Moonlight.

UNFPA programme officer, Humphreys Shumba said there is a strong relationship between sex work and HIV and as such deliberate efforts need to be put in place in order to reduce the risk of HIV among the group.

HIV prevalence among sex workers stands at 71%.

The study was carried out in 10 randomly selected cities and towns of Karonga, Kasungu, Lilongwe, Salima, Ntcheu, Mangochi, Thyolo, Blantyre, Chikhwawa and Mwanza. The sampled areas were based on level of urbanization, tourist destination sites, major commercial farming areas, boarder points and transit areas.

A total of 113 places of entertainment such as bars, rest houses, bottle stores, hotels, inns, lodges, night clubs, salons, and short time sex selling points among others were visited.<br /><br />It (the study) was commissioned by the Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) with funding from the UNFPA.

The study which was done in October 2011, was done after national partners noted a gap in sex work programming in Malawi.

According to the study, it is estimated that there are 19, 295 sex workers in Malawi.

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