INCREASED gold panning activities in Mudzi district have exposed young boys to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and other health risks at the back of an influx of commercial sex workers who have flooded the mining communities.
By Michael Gwarisa Recently In Mudzi
Most young people in the area have resorted to gold panning which has become the most resourceful source of income in the area. Payments for gold sales at various mills dotted around the community are done in United States dollars (USD) terms, a factor which has lured sex workers from as far as Beitbridge, Masvingo and other distant areas to Mudzi.
In an interview with HealthTimes on the sidelines of the Youth Day at Nyakuchena Youth Centre in Mudzi, Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) Youth Facilitator, Mrs Joyce Chipfupi said STI cases have been on an upward trend since beginning of the year and most cases are coming from the mining areas where sex workers conduct their trade.
The gender which is being affected the most are male and the age groups being affected the most are boys between 20 and 24 years. We believe this increase in STIs as is due to unprotected sex with commercial sex workers. There is an area where commercial sex work is rampart. Every month since May, we have been getting at least six STI cases here at the youth centre.
“The sex workers do not deny these young people sex based on their age, all they want is money. Unfortunately, when these young people get infected at times they infect their girlfriends and since some within this age range are already married, they also infect their wives,” said Mrs Chipfupi.
A number of gold mills have been setup around the gold rich Mudzi district which has also seen a rise in economic activity around the community. She added that Nyakuchena has numerous challenges that could hamper service delivery of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services if not addressed.
“The challenges we face in this area include long distance to Makosa and Makaha Clinic. Some adolescent living positive default on medication due to lack of transport. Youth attendance this year is also very low due to lack of electricity for edutainment.
“STIs increased this year due to industrial activities around here. There are many mills which are now running here. Also lack of resources hinder our survival skills and some of the partners have withdrawn because of funding challenges.”
ZNFPC Mashonalalnd East Provincial Manager, Mr Peter Machimbirike said the contraceptive prevalence rate was very low for Mudzi district and coupled with increased mining activities and sex work, this exposed the young people to various health hazard of sexual nature.
“The other challenge around this youth centre is the issue of mills. When you see a lot of mills, it means you will see a lot of other people coming from other places. We are also seeing a lot of economic activity happening.
“Economic activity is very good but there are disadvantages of having a lot activities around. That is why we are seeing an increase in STIs around the area because of gold panning and activities taking place. However, our first port of call is to empower the sex workers and not to target the young people to make sure that if ever they are going to have sex with the young boys, they should make sure it’s protected.”
He added that most sex workers in the hotspots are offering boys unprotected sex for a higher price of money and since most of these young boys are first-timers to sex, the excitement at times supersedes normal reasoning, hence the spike in new cases among boys.
He also said they have taken a multi-sectorial approach which includes engaging the owners of the mills and visiting the mining centres which are hotspots for STIs to inorder to address the STIs burden.
Meanwhile, the Nyakuchena Youth Centre in Mudzi opened its doors to the public in 2005 and has six staff members, namely the youth health advisor, the youth health facilitator, two guards, eight peer educators and eight committee members. The centre covers 36 villages and has an estimated total population of 2 820 (Male, 1 586, Female is 1 284).
ZNFPC also has an out of school youths program where males are 596, females 556, bringing the total to 1180. The centre also offers clinical health services for youths which range from STIs and HTS services diagnosis, Reproductive Health services, Family planning. From January this year, the centre has expanded services to a total of 867 young people.