Government has announced an aggressive strategy to contain HIV/AIDS by putting all prostitutes under HIV treatment irrespective of their viral load, also known as CD4 Count.
According to the implementing partner the Botswana Family Welfare Association (BOFWA) Public Relations Officer, Keitumetse Mariri, they have already piloted this program in Gaborone and Francistown, and will soon be taking it to Maun.However, Mariri also pointed out that they are not satisfied with the numbers of sex workers who come forward to get their services.
The Ministry of Health last year revealed the results of their survey showing that there are about 5,000 female sex workers in Gaborone, Francistown and Kasane.
The move was announced by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health Shenaz El-Halabi at a recent media briefing, where she explained that this is in a bid to stem an apparent re-emergence of the 1990s HIV and AIDS scenario, where over 30 percent of the population was infected.
Speaking during a media briefing hosted by Minister Dorcas Makgato in Gaborone recently, the Permanent Secretary said the initiative would begin as a pilot project between the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Botswana Family Welfare Association (BOFWA).
“We are working hand in hand with BOFWA to pilot an initiative where every HIV positive female sex worker would be given ARVs in spite of their CD4 count. This is a way to help curb the spread of HIV,” she said.
El-Halabi added MoH also encouraged sex workers to take responsibility and regularly use condoms to avoid the spread of the disease.
For her part, Minister Makgato said sex workers, like any other person had to have access to treatment. She noted isolating them from the public, was stigmasing them, which could only aid the spread of the virus. A sex workers survey by the National AIDS Coordinating Council (NACA) last year revealed that over 64 percent of the prostitutes admitted not using a condom because they were paid more by their clients for not using condoms.
The study also said about half of the women prostitutes are either married or in stable relationships or cohabiting.
According to a study publicised last year and reported in the media a female sex worker’s profession ranges between four-seven years, earning her a mean of 7.6 sex partners in a week.
Gaborone is estimated to have 2,722 female sex workers while Francistown city is estimated to have 1,065 sex workers, with Kasane shown to have 366 by the Ministry of Health study.
The move by government to provide sex workers with ARV’s looks set for failure as it excludes what is probably the highest population of sex workers in Botswana, the Zimbabwean Sex Workers in Gaborone, Francistown, Palapye, Maun, Kasane, to name a few.
The Ministry of Health’s studies are indicating dangers of reversal of fortunes in the fight against HIV as a new upward trend of new cases of infections is emerging. A 2012 study whose results were announced in 2014(two years later), revealed that Botswana had 5000 sex workers, majority of them in Gaborone and Francistown.
It is a well known fact that in Gaborone alone Zimbabwean sex workers reign supreme in dark corners of G-West shops, Gaborone Sun street, Maruapula mall, Middle star streets and night clubs.
With their P40 a round, and their negotiable over night fees, the Zimbabwean sex workers have undoubtedly become a hit with the sexually active urban male looking for a stress free one night stand.
The heavy density of cars stopping by at these spots for affordable services at night, attest to both the pulling power of these non-citizen sex workers and the vulnerability of their customers to HIV/AIDS.
However Family Welfare Association (BOFWA) Public Relations Officer, Keitumetse Mariri has told The Monitor newspaper that the government would not be providing antiretroviral treatment to non-citizen sex workers.
As usual the excuse for not reaching out to this group in a life-changing fashion, is the lack of money rhetoric, which has also caused a stand off between government and foreign inmates serving jail time in Botswana.
According to the implementing NGO, BOFWA the non-citizen sex workers will only be offered free testing and counseling, CD4 count and STIs screening (HAART) together with other necessary process including prescription of ARVs which will have to be paid for by the infected sex worker.
“This must not discourage this group but therefore motivate them to come forward and get help.
We encourage them to show up in large numbers because we would provide them with free services except for the medication part,” Mariri explains.
“We know that the government does not have enough money to provide treatment for both its people and non-citizens but it is also trying its best to control HIV by giving them (non-citizens FSW) free services,” Mariri further explained.