Saturday, July 17, 2003

Mail & Guardian

Swazis have sex workers covered

MBABANE, July 16 — As awareness of the Aids crisis breaks in Swaziland like a blinding dawn, measures that would have been unthinkable a year ago are now being initiated.

This week the Mbabane city council — in a bid to stem the spread of HIV among sex workers and their clients — announced plans to leave boxes of condoms in parks and other areas where sex workers gather. The plan was, however, initially condemned by the capital city's sex workers, who said the "bait" of condoms would lure the police to where they did business.

But it appears they were wrong. Prostitution is illegal in Swaziland, but the police were not interfering with a new Aids initiative aimed at long-distance truck and taxi drivers. Such itinerate workers have not been reached by health NGOs who bring Aids information to companies with workers in one place.

The Family Life Association of Swaziland (Flas) is training commercial sex workers as "peer educators", and Population Services International (PSI) is providing condoms and literature to distribute to truckers and other sex workers. The programme is being financed by USAid.

Twenty "peer educators" are being posted at the Oshoek border gate to Mpumalanga, South Africa, which is used by most truckers to and from Gauteng; 10 will be placed at the Lavumisa border gate to KwaZulu-Natal; and 10 at the Lomahasha border with Mozambique.

"Fifteen sex workers will be recruited in Manzini and Mbabane, because when truckers finish their jobs, they go to those towns," said Jerome Shongwe, Flas's programme coordinator.

The initiative kicked off with a parade of trucks and buses through downtown Mbabane. Sex workers adorned some of the vehicles. The police looked the other way.

As denial of Aids disintegrates, a new reality is taking hold — to tolerate whatever helps fight the epidemic.

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Created: January 8, 2004
Last modified: January 15, 2004
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