NEGATIVE attitudes coupled with high level stigma by nursing and other health staff at various health centers is to blame for the high Anti Retro-viral Treatment (ART) default rate among sex workers in various parts of the country, sex worker organisations have said.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Gweru
These revelations were made by sex worker organisations at the just ended National Sex Workers conference that was hosted by the Zimbabwe Aids Network (ZAN) in Gweru which aimed among other things to deliberate on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) issues for sex workers as well as finding lasting solutions to other challenges bedeviling their trade.
Bathabile Nyathi from WAD, a sex worker led association in Matabeleland said, “…the challenges we are facing from our local clinic and hospitals include the $5 that is required to register and these days due to economic challenges, our short time can go as low as $0.50 its actually a challenge to raise $5 these days. We also bemoan the low quality friendly service at hospitals, for example, even you want top collect those free condoms, the attitude we are given by the nurses is repulsive.
“Even the terminology that is used by health institutions is anti sex workers. There is also high lack of confidentiality, at times you get into a room with an Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), the nurses shout on top of their voice raising unnecessary alarm even to those who would have come at the center for other business,” said Bathabile.
She added that the issue of distance was a a cause for concern in Matabeleland as many sex workers have to default on their medication due to the attitude they get from nurses upon arriving at the health centres.
“In Matabeleland South, there is a place called West Nicholson, somebody walks 40 to 60 kilometers to the nearest clinic. After walking such a distance, one is required to pay the $5 then gets a prescription to buy some medication, goes back home and returns with the medication.
“You realise that one gets tired along the process and would rather just not return to the clinic due to the distance. At times the nurses go for teas for long hours and the queue will be getting longer by the day. Considering that these places many a times only have one bus which operates the route, one has to abandon collecting meds and wait another day, hence the default rate.”
ZAN national coordinator, Taurai Nyandoro said there was need by government and health institutions to take health issues for key populations, sex workers included into consideration if the country is to progress towards ending AIDS.
“When we do programming for HIV/AIDS lets all work towards achieving tangible results, that way all our gathering will not be reduced to talk shows.
“Sex workers have genuine reasons they raise and to address them both government and institutions have to work together to ensure basis health services are availed to these populations. It is also imperative that as a country we come up with local financing policies and strategies for our health issues. we must always be prepared for a day when donor will wake and say we have had enough of Zimbabwe and they pack and leave,” said Nyandoro.
Meanwhile, Midlands programs officer for the Zimbabwe Aids Council (NAC) Margaret Mika said sex workers were a critical constituency in the fight against HIV and leaving them behind would defeat all efforts of attaining the 90-90-90 target.
“We have got individuals that are at higher risk of getting HIV in Zimbabwe. According to the Zimbabwe National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan (ZINASP3) which guides the national response top HIV and AIDS, we have seen that there are populations by virtue of what they do, they are at greater risk.
“Since sex workers engage in sex on daily basis, they are more at risk than other societal groups. This is why we have got populations that are greater risk. There are also male sex workers and other communities coming into contact with them,” said Mika.
According to the 2016 estimates, HIV estimated 1.3 million people living wit HIV, and , 74 000 children and the general population prevalence is at 31,7 percent. The country also records a total of 40 000 new infections every year.