FRANCISTOWN: Civic leaders in the second city have called on government to move swifly and recognise sex workers and homosexuals if at all the country is serious about winning the battle against HIV and AIDS.
Councillors said this when commenting on the presentation by an official from the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA), during a special full council meeting on Tuesday.
The agency’s assistant deputy national AIDS coordinator, Joseph Kefas told the council that HIV prevalence among female sex workers is still a concern as it currently stands at 61.9% in Kasane, Francistown and Gaborone. “In Francistown, the HIV prevalence amongst sex workers is 53.5%, with Gaborone at 65.5% and Kasane leading with 68.5%.
The HIV prevalence among men having sex with other men is also high at 9.2% overall adjusted and 13.1% overall unadjusted in our recent study,” said Kefas. He said the HIV prevalence among men having sex with other men in Francistown is at 11.7% with Gaborone at 12 % and Kasane leading with 25.9%.
The councillors noted that the figures show that sex workers and homosexuals are vulnerable to HIV, but do not want to come out in the open to discuss issues related to HIV because they are not recognised. This they said fuel the prevalence rates among them.
Itekeng ward councillor, Lesego Kwambala said government has to accept reality and recognise sex workers as well as homosexuals so that they can effectively be assisted accordingly on issues of HIV/AIDS.
Kwambala said the non-recognised groups are prone to various forms of sexual abuse, which can lead them to contacting the HIV virus. He added that sex workers are also afraid of reporting their abusers since they are not recognised. He went on to challenge NACA to improve the funding of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) so as to strengthen the fight against HIV.
Kwambala said ever since the donors pulled out their funding from NGOs the fight against HIV has regressed and people are now reluctant to fully participate and help the country win the battle against HIV.
Nominated councillor, Zazambi Tuelo shared Kwambala’s sentiments that it is high time sex workers and homosexuals are given recognition by the government.
“Winning the fight against HIV remains an illusion if we do not recognise sex workers and gays. There is greater evidence that sex workers fuel the spread of HIV in the country. Government has to heed repeated calls for sex workers and homosexuals to be recognised,” said Tuelo.
He also backed Kwambala’s stance that NGOs need to be resuscitated through funding, pointing out that they had a huge impact in the community as they sensitised people including gays, sex workers and others. Kefas also acknowledged the shortage of test kits around the country, something he attributed to government using new test kits.
“We are currently training health personnel on the use of the new testing kits. I promise that very soon thing will be back to normal,” said Kefas.