We can’t afford to exclude Zim sex workers in the fight against HIV/Aids

Disturbing reports from the Ministry of Health indicate that Botswana is on the relapse in its fight against the HIV/Aids scourge.

New cases of infections have caused the authorities to fear that the nation could  once again, be in line to repeat the disaster of the 90’s that led to almost 50% of the population getting infected by the HIV virus.

Interestingly, the authorities have identified sex workers as one of the key groups that had been neglected for too long yet having a significant contribution to the rise in new infections.

Government has responded by starting an aggressive programme that would enrol all sex workers into HIV treatment, regardless of their CD4 count, in an effort to reduce the strain of the virus among the sex workers.

While this initiative is most welcome and highly encouraged, we fear that excluding a key population in this trade, namely the Zimbabwean sex workers, the efforts to contain HIV/Aids at sex workers’ level will not bear fruit.

It is a common knowledge that the Zimbabwean sex workers constitute the majority, especially in the highly mobile urban populations of Gaborone, Francistown and other urban centres.

It is our conviction that folding our arms and saying there is no money for foreigners is self-defeating and that the consequences of our exclusive policies can only be regrettably disastrous.

Perhaps going forward, Botswana should cry out to the rest of the world for assistance in dealing properly with this emerging problem.

 Deportation of immigrants in the sex trade  could only bear very limited positive results, as the deported immigrants would soon be back at the same spot in less than 24 hours, and therefore start spreading the virus again.

 Perhaps, it is time for government to brief the local embassies on this new threat and appeal for financial aid on HIV treatment, that wouldin return  be extended to the sex workers from outside the country in an effort to contain the spread of the virus and therefore protecting the Botswana population from  this clear and present danger. Let us wake up to the sober reality that the days of exclusive, discriminatory interventions are behind us.

While at this, we should also be worried by reports that since the pilot programme to reach out to the local sex workers was started in Gaborone and Francistown, very few local sex workers have shown up. It will be interesting to find out why the sex workers  are not coming out for this help, which will go a long way in protecting them, their clients,  the families and sex partners of their clients. This should be done with vigour and rigour as a matter of urgency.

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