Disabled & HIV Positive Chiredzi 24-Year-Old Retired Sex Worker Speaks Out

RODHA (24) (real name protected) is a young girl living with a disability of the limbs. She has Locomotor Disability, a form of disability which affects the limbs and hinders one’s movement from point A to B. She has been walking on Clutches since she was a little girl.  In 2013, Rodha fled her rural home in Chivi where she lived with her uncle and his wife.

By Michael Gwarisa recently in Chiredzi

Despite her condition, she says her uncle would verbally and physically abuse her, accusing her of philandering and getting involved with boys at a very young age. One day she decided to board a ZUPCO Bus and leave her life, school and old friends in Chivi behind to start a new life in the Sugar Cane farming community of Chiredzi. Her plan was to probably find work in the sugar cane plantations or as a maid, but due to her condition, her prospects of getting employed hit a brick wall. She tried begging but still, the proceeds from the alms were not enough to sustain her daily needs.

At age 17, Rodha took a decision that would later change her life permanently. Due to hunger and starvation and general life hardships, Rodha resorted to sex work. At first, she was a hit, everyone wanted to sample “how it feels to have intercourse with a woman living with disability“, her fame did not last for long as she had to be diagnosed with HIV and a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) the same year she started sex work.

Speaking to HealthTimes, Rodha said she it was never her intention to get into sex work, all she needed was to lead a normal life and survive the harsh economic environment.

In 2013, i joined the sex work trade just to survive, I did not have another plan of survival. I was diagnosed with an STI. At first, I didn’t even know it was an STI, some people saw me struggling to walk as the STI was now advanced as I would also produce a stench. The people told me my sympotoms were those of someone with an STI and that I should go get checked at the clinic, that is how I discovered that I had an STI.

“I also discovered that I was pregnant with my first child in 2013 as well. When I visited the clinic, the healthcare staff as part of procedure, also did an HIV test on me and it came out positive,” said Rodha.

Rodha says when she got the STI diagnosis, it took her close to two years to get treatment and medication for her STI as healthcare staff would send her back and forth.

“At some point I was told that I needed to get a letter from the social welfare people for me to be assisted. When I went to the general hospital, they said they wanted money for me to be treated so it’s either I would get the money or got get a letter written on my behalf by the social welfare people.”

As for her Antiretroviral (ARVs) treatment, she says she was assisted and was initiated the moment she tested positive and she has since retired from sex work. 

She now has three children with three different men and up to today, she does not know the father of her first child. The other man and father to her second child works as a tout in Chiredzi Bus termini while the other is in Beitbridge. Her first child is Seven years old, the other one is five while the youngest will be turning two by end of this month.

“I have now retired from sex work. However, it has not been easy, I have been surviving on begging. Before the COVID-19 came, i would go to Hippo Valley to beg for goods or anything just to survive. At times I would come home with some toiletries and food items for my children.

“However, the lockdown has brought untold suffering, due to travel restrictions, I failed to move around. I also came to a point where I could not even afford sanitary pads during the lockdown and I would use rags whenever my period came,” said Rodha.

Rodha has since joined the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) Youth Friendly Centre in Tsovani where she is now getting assistance in the form of ARV medications, counseling, sanitary wear and psychosocial support. The Youth Friendly Centre offers services to hundreds of young people in Chiredzi within the  10 to 24 age range.

Tsovani Youth Centre Youth Facilitator, Mrs  Lindiwe Ndoda said the number of young people visiting the youth centre has increased drastically since August  and they have been assiting several young people through provision of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and Rodha was amongst those who had joined the centre during the lockdown period.

“On average, before the lockdown, in January we had about 224 young people, in February 234 and then in April, May and June we recorded zero young people who came to seek services and then this September, our numbers have gone all the way up to about 300.

“For those who accessed Family Planning services here at the youth centre, we had 61, and then Chilonga we had 83 and Save it was 71 which is a total of about 215. And then for those who accessed HIV Testing and Counseling services, the 10 to 14-year olds we recorded 23 females and then the 15 to 19 we 90 females and three males. The 20 to 24, we recorded 84 females which is quite a huge number,” said Mrs Ndoda.

She said the COVID-19 induced lockdown had negatively impacted access to SRH services including access to sanitary wear but they have since secured a sponsor who is keen to assist them in making reusable sanitary pads.

“We have been conducting mobile clinics during the lockdown period and we have realized that mobile clinics are the way to go. Our partner Plan international has committed to provide us with commodities so that maybe we can conduct these mobile clinics every quarter and that is a done deal.

“Looking at the COVID-19 era, the prices of sanitary pads for the girls was a challenge. We have managed again to clinch another partnership with Divine trust who have promised to give us a sewing machine so that we can be able to make reusable sanitary pads and then Pan International is also providing us with sanitary pads for our girls.”

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