Prostitution Rife in Nigerian Capital as AIDS Rates Soar
Nigeria has more than 1 million female sex workers and as many as 7 million people with HIV/AIDS, according to nongovernmental organizations. The fight against HIV/AIDS was a key topic at a four-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Abuja that opened on Friday, Dec. 5 and brought together leaders from 52 mainly former British colonies.
Abuja alone has more than 15,000 prostitutes. Although no formal research has been done on HIV/AIDS prevalence in the city, nongovernmental groups say the infection rate is "incredibly high" since Nigerian men tend to shun condoms.
Irene Patrick, head of Women's Health Education Development, said there are three levels of prostitutes in Nigeria: high-class call girls who earn about $100 for sex; mid-range prostitutes who work in urban brothels and earn about $3 for sex; and village prostitutes who charge a few cents for sex and sometimes have sex with as many as 14 men a night. "We have estimated that about 2 percent of Nigeria's female population are poverty-stricken prostitutes," Patrick said. "Women are attracted to the money in the cities, but have to have sex to earn it -- this is probably a large reason why the HIV infection rate is so high."
Nigeria's government has put up large billboards on the side of Abuja's main road to urge people to "stop the spread of AIDS," and newspapers cover the topic extensively.
"It is unbelievable at this stage of the disease, but many sex workers in Abuja say that their clients are ignorant about AIDS and refuse to use condoms," Patrick said. "We do find that educating prostitutes is quite effective, because they tend to pass on their knowledge to their clients."