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Discrimination against key populations hinders access to health facilities

Female sex workers
The fight against the discrimination of the Key Populations (KPs) such as female sex workers, men who have sex with other men (MSM) and others, seems to be running futile as they are facing the same challenge in local health facilities.

Even though different institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have over the years being sensitising the public about KPs, it seems like their efforts fell on deaf ears, as there are allegations that they are being discriminated against in local health facilities.

When addressing the media at an Advocacy Communication and Social Mobilisation (ACSM) Media Engagement organised by Botswana Family Welfare Association (BOFWA) recently, Neo Monnapula of Nkaikela Youth Group said that many sex workers do not seek medical attention from local health facilities because they are afraid of being discriminated against by health practitioners.

“We are an organisation that works with Female Sex Workers (FSW) on daily basis. One of the things we learnt is that our clients face discrimination in local clinics. As a result, they opt to not seek medical attention in time of need.

"We had an incident where one of the ladies was told by a nurse at one of the health facilities that if she keeps on coming back with a sexually transmitted disease (STDs), she would be reported to the police and she never went to seek medical attention at any of the local health facilities again,” she said.

She added that sex workers were human beings and therefore had the right to health. She said the reason why sex workers contributed to high HIV/AIDS prevalence in Botswana was because they were afraid to seek medical attention due to discrimination from health practitioners.

She said according to 2012 report, female sex workers contributed to the highest HIV Prevalence in

Botswana compared to women who were not commercial sex workers. She said over 53% of them had the virus.

Furthermore, Monnapula explained that sex workers were not necessarily the drivers of HIV epidemic. She said studies show that most of them were HIV negative when not in sex work saying they contracted the disease a year, two or more in their line of work.

“Most of those women experienced abuse in their line of work. As we know, the law criminalised sex work because either we like it or not this group of people exists in our society.

"It is high time the government reviews its policies and decriminalises sex work so that those women can be able to access medical health facilities without being stigmatised or discriminated. This can also enable them to report sexual abuse from clients. Many sex workers in the country are Batswana,” she said.

Onkokame Mosweu from Men for Health and Gender Justice said MSM also face the same challenges. He said those men are in most cases brutally judged for being who they are.

“We had a case where one of our client was laughed at for having sex with other men. MSM are facing challenges in both health facilities and socially. They are sometimes being told that they had evil spirits that needed to be cast away when in other cases their sexual choices are questioned even by health practitioners,” he said.

He called on both the public and health practitioners to accept and respect the KPs.




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