Sex workers promote HIV prevention

Published: 22 February 2011 9:30 CET

By Faye Callaghan, IFRC

I better starve than receiving money with a coffin attached,” said Rose* at a recent sexual and reproductive health, HIV peer education training session for sex workers, run by the Malawi Red Cross. “If my partner insists on unprotected sex, I tell him to go to hell with your money.”

Over 90 sex workers attended the five-day workshop, designed for education on disease prevention, health promotion and in particular to teach them how to educate their peers on the importance of using condoms and giving them the confidence to say no to clients who insist on unprotected sex.

The programme is part of the Malawi Red Cross’disease prevention and health promotion strategy to target those most at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The training was focused on women, but some men have also now joined the group of educators who spread important messages about the disease.

“The inclusion of men and boys is a key component of the Malawi Red Cross gender strategy and in this context it helps to reduce the stigma against sex workers,” said Patrick Phiri, HIV and Malaria manager at the Malawi Red Cross. “The groups educate fellow sex workers on personal protection. They encourage their sex partners to use a condom correctly and consistently. It is encouraging to note that sex workers who have mobilized themselves to work in the group have all gone for HIV tests,” he added.

In addition to the training, the sex workers were provided with Red Cross t-shirts as recognition of the partnership. Armed with a strong and recognised brand, the sex workers go out with a morale boost and the confidence to meet and train fellow peers on adoption of healthy lifestyle.

But the sex worker educators face a number of challenges including stigmatisation and a lack of transport to visit new communities. “If funds can be made available we would like to train more sex workers as peer educator and provide them with tools to ease their work such as bicycles,” said Patrick. “We would also like to support sex workers with business skills so that they can graduate into a profitable and sustainable trade.”

Through this project funded by the National AIDS Control programme, the Malawi Red Cross has gained a better understanding on facilitating health education activities in a challenging socio-cultural and economic context. A key lesson learned is that if sex workers are given the right information, training and support, they can contribute effectively to the reduction of the transmission of HIVand other STI’s.

*name changed


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