SEX workers from most parts of the country have raised a red flag over the new prices of condoms which has gone beyond the reach of many, a situation which could lead to a spike in new HIV infections and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
By Michael Gwarisa
A pack of Durex Condoms now range between ZW$107 and ZW$119 which is twice the price of bread. To worsen the situation, accessing free condoms or Dembare Condoms has also become a challenge. Sex workers who spoke to HealthTimes pleaded with government to subsidise and scrap duty on the importation of condoms.
Shamy who is a Sex Worker and a Chemical Engineering Student with the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) said the new Condom price was a major blow to her sex trade.
The new condom price has just taken us by surprise. I am stranded and I don’t know how I am going to continue with my job as a sex worker after this. I am a sex worker, that’s my other profession, I must always have a condom in my bag since anytime, anywhere, clients might want my services.
“With the new price of condoms, its going to be difficult to survive, where are we going to get the money from. In our trade, clients don’t bring their own condoms, we have to buy to ensure we protect ourselves because they fear being caught by their wives with condoms in their pockets. Mhene inotongouya iri Savana Dry nemari yayo kasi isina condom,” said Shamy.
She said even though she is on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxes (PrEP) which prevents against HIV infection, it does not prevent against other STIs and unwanted pregnancies hence the need for affordable condoms.
“I can’t risk just because I am on PrEP, I need that condom to prevent other STIs infections. Increasing the price of condoms does not work. This anomaly needs to be fixed as soon as possible. If I decide to have unprotected sex with a married man today, I also put his wife at risk so we need to avert that.”
Another sex worker who identified herself as Sylvia said the new price of condoms would likely reverse gains that had been attained in reducing HIV Incidence and prevalence.
“In our line of trade, Condoms are a must and not having one could cost you a lifetime. We are shocked at this new price, we are now wondering what this whole new development means for us as sex workers.
“We want to plead with government to reduce the price of condoms. We also want to access these condoms for free. Take for example those ma Dembare condoms, they are very hard to come by these days even in hospitals where we are supposed to be getting them, they are nowhere to be found,” said Sylvia.
She added that as Sex Workers and as women who survive through selling sex, they had been empowered and taught on the importance of protected sex and using condoms.
“However, with this new scenario we are now confused. Sex workers are always accused of spreading HIV and other STIs and this situation will worsen the already existing stigma and discrimination against Sex workers.
“With the new condom price, we realise that also retailers and those selling condoms are also responsible for spreading HIV and STIs as a result of their pricing tendencies which leave sex workers and clients failing to buy the much needed protection. I am calling on the ministry of health and the national aids council to prioritise condoms access. While we focus on ensuring everybody wears a mask to prevent COVID-19, lets also ensure we also get condoms to prevent ourselves from HIV and infections.”
Meanwhile, Women Against All forms of Discrimination (WAAD) Coordinator, Hazel Zemura said government should scrap import duty on condoms to ensure the price does not go beyond the reach of many.
“As WAAD, we would like to remind government to look at our HIV statistics from the late 90s and the early 2000s. You find that in Zimbabwe in 2014, we distributed more than 100 million male condoms in one year which was one of the highest condom distribution and has even been recorded by the UNAIDS.
“This helped a lot in reducing HIV prevalence to almost half from the period of 2005 to 2015. This is all accredited to increased condom use. Zimbabweans are no longer ashamed to talk about condoms. You see the adverts and billboards everywhere and it’s now a norm.
“I have spoken to organisations and people who import condoms and they indicate that condoms pay import duty and there is need for government to provide a subsidy for condoms and cushion those companies that are importing condoms into the country. Government needs realise that this is a public health issue.”
She added that the COVID-19 should not lead to government abandoning other public health concerns such as HIV which the country has been battling for a years. She also said the young age groups between 18 and 24 shun the Dembare condoms for various reasons and prefer flavored and branded condoms.