MORE than 50 Female Sex Workers (FSWs) have graduated as peer educators to help halt the spread of HIV/AIDS especially among the key populations of sex workers.
The FSWs who are coming from Chirundu, Livingstone, Sesheke and Kazungula borders were trained by Corridors of Hope in partnership with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFA) .
They have since changed their behaviors and they would be educating their fellow peers in in busy places at night to practice safer sex.
Livingstone District Commissioner Omar Munsanje said the HIV prevalence among the sex workers population was 10 times higher than the general population and hence it was important to target such people.
Mr Munsaje said most FSWs were engaging in unprotected sex, inability to negotiate for safer sex including non-use of condoms, lack of access to appropriate health services, social stigma, criminalisation, social violence, drug and alcohol abuse which were contributing to the higher HIV prevalence rate.
He said this in Livingstone on Thursday in a speech read for him by Livingstone District Medical community health officer Cliff Hara during the graduation ceremony for 56 FEWs.
One of the FSWs who was also supposed to graduate, Carol Liwema, died two days before the graduation ceremony.
“Sex workers as a sub-population are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
“Therefore, controlling or preventing HIV infections in FSWs is an important strategy of halting the spread of HIV in the general population,” Mr Munsanje said.
He said Zambia’s HIV prevalence projected at 12 per cent in 2003 was
among the highest in the world and it was a major threat to the
Corridors of Hope Chief of Party Joseph Kamanga expressed concern at the increasing number of both female and male sex workers in the country.
Mr Kamanga said his organisation was not a reformist but that it was merely encouraging sex workers to do their activities in a safe and dignified manner by not spreading HIV/AIDS infections to other people.
“We have so far trained 145 peer educators across the country and they have been engaging their fellow sex workers on matters of practicing safe sex.
“We are using sex workers to engage their fellow sex workers on matters of halting the spreading of HIV/AIDS infections. We believe a person needs to ask crocodiles if he or she want to know how hippos live in water because both live in live,” Mr Kamanga said.
Vanesa Siandula, a graduating peer educator living from Kazungula border, said she was currently encouraging sex workers to practice safer sex to mitigate the spreading of HIV/AIDS infections.
Ms Siandula, who is popularly known as ‘Queen Mother’, said she stopped breastfeeding when her child was two months so that she could engage in sex work to earn an income.
“I had a number of friends in Lusaka, Kitwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe who were linking me to sex work and I could easily move from one place or country to another.
“I also made my house a brothel but I have since changed my life after Corridors of Hope came to train me in peer education as well as on how to use the condoms correctly,” she said.
Pamela Shawa, a graduating peer educator from Chirundu border, said she had changed her phone sim cards so that men should not contact her anymore after her life changed.
Ms Shawa said she was married for two years but she left her marital home to start engaging in prostitution to earn an income.
“I never used to pray to God as all that was in my mind was beer. I remember I could go for five to seven men in one night but thank God I have now changed though my family members have not yet accepted me.
“Life in the night is dangerous and I want to fight this HIV/AIDS so that we can have zero infection rate,” she said.