S. Africa: Fears That World Cup Could Increase Spread of HIV
January 11, 2010
Public health officials are preparing for this summer's World Cup festivities -- and the influx of as many as half a million fans -- in South Africa, a country where 5.7 million residents are HIV-positive.
One of the measures being considered to encourage safer-sex practices among the country's sex workers is decriminalization of prostitution, either permanently or during the games. Decriminalization is endorsed by advocates for sex workers.
"Throughout the world people have acknowledged that if you want to reduce HIV you need to be able to engage the population and address human rights concerns," said Eric Harper, director of the Cape Town-based Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT). A 2005 study found that 46 percent of Johannesburg's female prostitutes were HIV-positive.
Some public health officials are optimistic about reducing the risk of HIV spreading during the World Cup games. Recent educational outreach, including efforts by SWEAT, has increased safer-sex practices among South Africa's sex workers, said a member of the council that advises the government on HIV/AIDS.
"Years ago the high-risk groups were thought to be homosexuals and sex workers, but there has been such a focus on education for these groups that their behavior has really changed. It's quite the norm for a commercial sex worker to have a bag full of condoms," said Julian Seedat of the South African National AIDS Council.
Still, sex workers also need the civil rights protections that decriminalization would provide, advocates say.
"We have to make condoms freely available and we have to make it possible for sex workers to report human rights violations like child prostitution and people trafficking," Harper said.
01.07.2010; Mark Tutton
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