STIGMA around sex work and discrimination places sex workers in danger such as high rates of violence and exposure to HIV.
March 30, 2022
3 min read
Sex workers battle discrimination
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Often, sex workers are denied healthcare services because of their occupation.
These emerged at the National AIDS Commission (NAC) workshop for Districts AIDS Committees (DACs) in Butha-Buthe and Thaba-Tseka in response to HIV/AIDS challenges.
The purpose of the workshop was to enhance functionality of DACs in collaboration with other coordination structures to effectively coordinate HIV/AIDS response.
A sex worker, who spoke to Maseru Metro on condition of anonymity, said not only nurses and doctors stigmatize and ill-treat them, but police officers and society in general treated them badly.
“Stigma against sex workers leads to extreme barriers to getting healthcare services,” she said.
“We are afraid to see doctors because of discrimination. It is difficult for us to report crimes against them, including assault or theft because the police officers also harass and violate us. Just like everyone else, sex workers deserve fair access to health and safety without judgment or punishment.”
The woman said she got into sex work business because of the high unemployment rate in the country.
“I have a baby to look after and have to do sex work to put bread on the table,” she said.
“I have to use my own money to purchase medication which I’m supposed to get from the clinic because nurses refuse to treat us.”
She appealed to authorities to come up with the necessary improvements that include changing the law and behaviour to ensure non-discrimination, sex education, reproductive health rights and HIV information services.
She said for condom use to be successful, sex workers and other key populations should be provided with stable, ongoing and adequate supplies of condom and lubricated products with acceptable material and design.
She said in Butha-Buthe HIV infections were increasing because projects aimed at the distribution of condoms and lubricants amongst others had ended.
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“It is difficult for them to access such services from the remaining operating health clinics,” the woman also said.
The effective supply, distribution and promotion of male and female condoms and lubricants are essential to successful HIV prevention interventions with sex workers.
In an effort to prevent HIV and make condoms more attractive for effective and efficient use, Lesotho through the UNFPA and the United Nations Population Fund has launched branded packaging of male and female condoms and lubricants.
The challenges include insufficient access of condoms to youth, key and vulnerable populations and lubricants not reaching sex workers.
Others involve men who have sex with other men, distrust or dislike of female condoms and low uptake due to culture and other socio-economic reasons despite promotion efforts.
But there are those who want to use scented condoms.
“All we want is user friendly condom distribution points catering for all the people,” a young man told Metro. “What we do in private on a daily basis puts us at risk to be infected by HIV.”
UNFPA focuses on key populations because they are proportionately affected by HIV, and also pose serious barriers to their ability to access quality and rights-based health care, UNFPA official Thabo Lebaka said.
“Key populations are a group who, due to specific higher risk behaviors, are at increased risk of HIV irrespective of the epidemic type or local context,” Mr Lebaka said.