A clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, is trying to combat one of the highest rates of HIV in the world by targeting one of the highest infected professions—prostitutes. Some researchers estimate that approximately 60 percent of the countries’ prostitutes are HIV positive. Many other health providers don’t want to deal with the chaotic lives of sex workers, said Maria Sibanyoni, a nurse, and added that to successfully implement HIV prevention strategies, some members of the community can’t be ignored.
While South Africa has made HIV treatment available to millions in the country, nearly 400,000 new infections occur each year. To combat this problem, the University of the Witwatersrand founded clinics specifically for prostitutes. It’s hard for many of these women to get health care elsewhere, explained Sibanyoni, who runs the project. “You know, because people have got their own beliefs about sex workers.”
Research has shown people who have at least one STD are more susceptible to becoming infected with HIV. The clinics aim to treat prostitutes for STDs, give them condoms and education regarding safe sex, and get them started on antiviral drugs. Clinic staff reach out to prostitutes by meeting them in brothels, at truck stops, and in the streets. Sibanyoni stresses that by treating them for other STDs, they lower the risk of spreading HIV to their clients and vice versa. "By providing these services, we are trying to control the spread of HIV," she said.
One woman, who was recently treated for an STD, said she felt comfortable at the clinic because the staff seems to understand her. She said it’s difficult for most of “the ladies” to go to public health clinics because they feel looked down on due to their profession. But her experience with the new clinic was good. “They gave me good treatment, and I was fine,” she says. “I really appreciate that.”