Sex workers HIV infection shock

14 December 2015 - 03:04 By Katharine Child

Seventy percent of Johannesburg sex workers have HIV, far exceeding the 46% estimate made in 2000. This is revealed in a study of HIV prevalence and treatment rates among sex workers by the US Centres for Disease Control in conjunction with the University of California, the Anova Health Institute and the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.The release of the study report has been delayed by the Department of Health for six months.For the study, 2180 sex workers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban were tested for HIV over six months.The HIV high prevalence rate emphasises the need for more sex workers to be given antiretrovirals. Treatment makes one non infectious.Durban's sex workers have a 53% HIV infection rate; Cape Town's almost 40%.The study found that only 19% of sex workers who knew they were HIV-positive were on treatment in Johannesburg, compared with about 25% in Cape Town and Durban.Nancy Knight, South Africa director for the US Centers for Disease Control, said the study revealed that of the sex workers who were HIV positive, more than 70% of sex workers in Durban and Johannesburg knew their status.Knight said that this meant that HIV testing services were working.Knight said Cape Town's general population had a relatively low HIV infection rate, which might explain the lower HIV rate among its sex workers.Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi delayed the release of the report to coincide with the launching of a government programme intended to reduce HIV infections among sex workers.The Times was told by the Centres for Disease Control that the release of the study was planned for August. It was then postponed this month before being delayed again.Given the delay, the Centres for Disease Control released some of its research to The Times.Public health researcher Marlise Richter said: "It is intolerable and unethical that a scientific study is embargoed because of political manoeuvring to launch an official government plan."Our understanding was that the study would [be] launched in December in time for World Aids Day, but this has been postponed until January."Centres for Disease Control public health specialist Helen Savva said the data showed that it was essential to get sex workers treated with antiretroviral drugs."If we want to get the South African HIV epidemic under control we have to [treat] groups that have the highest rates of HIV."Sex workers are a marginalised population. Their lifestyle is not always conducive to taking a pill a day. They travel across borders with truck drivers. There is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse."Knight said there were clinics in Pretoria and Johannesburg that offered health services specifically to sex workers.In a pilot project in Durban, treatment is taken to sex workers on the streets or in brothels to ensure that they receive medication and testing.The department is in talks about the practicability of giving HIV-negative sex workers access to Truvada, an HIV prevention pill.

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