July 14, 2005
In the mid-1990s, Father Herman Klein-Hitpass founded Stand Together, an organization that offers food and shelter for sex workers in Katutura, a low-income area of Namibia's capital, Windhoek. Klein-Hitpass noted that prostitutes face an immediate mortal threat of HIV infection and that the government is unwilling to confront the issue.
HIV prevalence is just over 21 percent in Namibia, according to UNAIDS, but Klein-Hitpass believes it could be as high as 75 percent among prostitutes his agency serves. Of the 1,170 sex workers Stand Together helps, about 100 are on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). However, sex workers are not the target of treatment, testing, or a concerted prevention initiative.
Five years ago, former Health Minister Libertina Amathila made an impassioned plea for the government to legalize prostitution as part of efforts to stem HIV. Cabinet colleagues, parliament, and churches denounced the idea on moral grounds, and her successor has said his ministry will not revisit the matter.
Abner Xoagub, chief administrator of the National AIDS Control Program (NACP), said there are benefits to legalizing prostitution. "If they were regulated we could have done more to target them for education programs and even make it mandatory that they have regular check-ups and health certificates to practice," he explained. "It is difficult to reach them now because they operate underground."
Klein-Hitpass said he has distributed 35,000 condoms to Katutura sex workers over the past year, but many may remain in their wrappers because sex workers can raise their fees for sex without condoms. NACP also distributes female condoms to provide protection against HIV.