In a bid to clamp down the high risk of spreading the deadly HIV virus, South Africa has announced its plan to give out HIV treatment to all sex workers who have tested positive to the virus.
Report from UNAIDS has it that not less than 50 Million women are engaged in sex work and HIV prevalence rates among sex workers is often almost 14% points higher than among the general population due to the inability to negotiate condom use, stigma and barriers to healthcare.
Out of the over 153000 sex workers (both Male and Female) reported to be living in South Africa, UNAIDS said the country suffers 72% HIV prevalance among its female sex workers though with marked variation in prevalence between different urban settings.
Sex work is estimated to account for as much as 20 percent of new HIV infections in South Africa, according to Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
But the good news is, SA’s health department has through its Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that it will provide antiretrovirals to thousands HIV-negative sex workers in a bid to keep them HIV free.
By doing this, South Africa stands as one of the first countries in the world to bring the latest HIV prevention science to those who need it most.
South Africa was the first country in Southern Africa to register Truvada in December. Truvada combines the ARVs emtricitabine and tenofovir, for use as prevention in December.
Speaking on this important move, South Africa National AIDS Council (SANAC) CEO Dr Fareed Abdullah credited Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi for driving the plan’s creation.
He said the decision was a rare one, “it’s a sign that government is taking this very seriously and working with non-governmental organisations and the community to make sure that the right thing is done and done properly.” he added.
The plan by the health department was said to have come after research released that found about 72 percent of Johannesburg sex workers surveyed were living with HIV.
While the bad news is although more than 90 percent of sex workers surveyed had tested for HIV, less than a third of those who were living with HIV had received treatment – far less than the national average, CEO Abdullah said he is happy particularly as the sex workers are showing their responsibility through their use of condoms with their clients.
Not lesser than 3000 HIV negative sex workers would be partakers of this great initiative. When taken daily as pre-exposure prophylaxis, Truvada can reduce a person’s risk of contracting HIV by about 90 percent.
Calling the plan a chance for South Africans to affirm their rights, the Deputy President and SANAC Chair Cyril Ramaphosa said the plan is about human rights of the ordinary South Africans; right to life, dignity and health regardless of their occupation and sexual orientation and regardless of their circumstance.
Ramaphosa however cautioned against that moral arguments against sex works could not trump workers’ inalienable human rights. He said the country can not reclaim the morality of society by excluding the most vulnerable.
“whatever views we might have about sex workers, whatever statures are on our law books about the legality of sex work.We cannot deny the human and unalienable rights of people who engage in sex work….Sex work is essentially work he added as he ended his speech.
Meanwhile, the national leader of the Sisonke sex worker movement Kholi Buthelezi has joined other sex workers in calling for decriminalization of sex workers to remain on the national agenda.
Also, Mpumalanga sex worker Lesly Mntambo also added that no one has the right to judge how she uses her body, hence all discriminatory statements has to stop.
“We are the vanguards of pleasure, stop criminalizing my adult body and what it is capable of doing. I decide what to do with it.”
At the moment,those living with HIV have to wait until their CD4 counts – a measure of the immune system’s strength – fall to 500 before they can start treatment.