Study Estimates 153,000 Sex Workers Active in South Africa

Study Estimates
153,000 Sex Workers Active in South Africa
First of its kind research released yesterday
shows that South Africa is home to about
153,000 sex workers as a new plan aims to
decriminalise one of the world’s oldest
Commissioned by the South African National
AIDS Council (SANAC), the research used
data gathered from sex worker interviews in
12 sites nationwide to estimate the country’s
sex worker population.
Of the 153,000 estimated sex workers active
in the country, about 8,000 are men and
about another 6,000 are transgender,
according to the research led by the Sex
Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce
The study found that sex was for sale in a
wide range of places including brothels, at
least one adult store and via local Internet
sex sites.
New HIV prevention science to be piloted
among sex workers
The research is aimed at helping SANAC roll
out the country’s first national HIV care and
treatment plan for sex workers. Unveiled
yesterday, the plan aims to provide better
prevention and care services for not only HIV,
but also sexually transmitted infections
tuberculosis among sex workers and their
At the 2014 Southern Africa HIV Clinicians
Conference, SANAC CEO Fareed Abdullah
quoted unpublished research indicating that
HIV prevalence rates among some South
African sex workers could be more than 70
A July 2014 study published in the
international medical journal The Lancet
estimated that at least six percent of all new
HIV infections in the country are linked to sex
South Africa is just one of many countries in
the region looking to use money from the
international financing mechanism the Global
Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria to address
vulnerable populations where HIV prevalence
rates remain high.
“If HIV is about sex, where else should we
start looking (to address it) but in sex work?”
said Fareed, adding that the US Centres for
Disease Control is currently funding a large
study to gauge HIV prevalence rates among
sex workers in major South African cities.
To address high rates of infections, SANAC’s
new plan aims to pilot the latest HIV
prevention science among sex workers. As
part of a pilot study, some HIV-negative sex
workers will be offered pre-exposure
prophylaxis, or antiretrovirals (ARVs) to
prevent HIV infection. Those living with HIV
will be offered ARVs as soon as they are
diagnosed as part of the pilot in an approach
commonly known as ‘test and treat.’
Like the country’s past two national strategic
plans, SANAC’s National Strategic Plan for HIV
Prevention, Care and Treatment for Sex
Workers also pushes for the decriminalisation
of the world’s oldest profession.
“If decriminalisation is to go through,
it’s important that it has the majority
of support from the people of South
“Sex work is criminalised and that
has made us more vulnerable,”
Buthelezi told Health-e News. “Police
rape us and, if we are arrested, they
will need sexual favours in order for
us to be released.”
If South Africa moved to decriminalise sex
work, it could look at regulating the
profession and create a safer working
environment, argue advocates like Buthelezi.

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