SABC News - Help for sex workers now a cellphone away:Saturday 12 March 2016

Help for sex workers now a cellphone away

Saturday 12 March 2016 16:25


CEO of the South African National AIDS Council Fareed Abdullah.

Fareed Abdullah is the CEO of the South African National AIDS Council. (SABC)

The government is to start offering sex workers legal support. This has emerged at the launch of the National Sex Workers HIV Plan in Johannesburg.

Sex workers have found it difficult to access health services because of discrimination. The government is hoping the health plan and the legal support will ease some of these challenges.  

CEO of the South African National AIDS Council Fareed Abdullah says the support will be as accessible as a cellphone application.

There are about 150 000 sex workers in South Africa. The HIV prevalence rates among sex workers is worrisome with 72% of those in Johannesburg being HIV positive. 

It has also emerged that sex workers working on national roads between Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein had an HIV prevalence rate of 88%.

Abdullah says this is the reason behind the launch of the South African National Sex Worker HIV Plan. "So what do we know about sex work in South Africa: first, the good news sex - workers are showing responsibility; about 3/4 of sex workers are using condoms with their clients. The bad news: sex workers are not accessing anti-retroviral treatment."

This plan aims to bypass the stigma that sex workers experience in the health sector by providing the services including the provision of anti-retrovirals directly to them.

One of the sex worker attending the gathering  is optimistic about the plans prospects. "Because it’s going to be a peer led program it is going to yield desired results at the end because you are a sex worker I am a sex worker you are rendering services to me,you have been trained to render the service to me I will be much more comfortable."

The program will include peer education, health care, psychological services, human rights package, social capital building package and an economic empowerment package. But it appears this plan is one of a number of solutions the government has come up with.

The country will also soon be having a conversation around decriminalising sex work. Deputy Minister of Social Development Henrietta Bokgopane-Zulu says a process is under way which could result in the decriminalisation of sex work although it is still in its initial stages. 

"The first step is obviously, like any legislation, you need to ensure the law reform commission writes a report. Does the research scans our legislative environment?  - they have already done that therefore we now at a process where the relevant ministries that are affected are considering the report the next step will be the report being released to the public; and then the public engaging in the report."

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