THE National Aids Council (NAC) in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has established a free clinic that treats and support women who had turned to commercial sex work.
Chiwaridzo Clinic offers free cancer screening, post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART), as well as screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Speaking during a recent tour of the clinic, Bindura District Aids Coordinator (DAC) Mr Agrippa Karuru said the health centre was established in 2020 as an expansion of a similar programme by the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/Aids research (CeSHHAR), who had a mobile sister clinic and peer educators.
“We realised that if CeSHHAR is to pull out, we will not have a continuation of the programme, and to close that gap, we established a permanent clinic here where sex workers get treatment every Friday,” said Mr Karuru.
“CeSHHAR still assists the clinic with materials that the sisters need, including lubricants. CeSHHAR had three peer educators but due to the effectiveness of the programme, we increased the number of peer educators to reach out to many sex workers.
“What attracts the sisters is the free treatment that they get. For HIV testing, we have other static sites that we refer them to. The clinic is offering condom programming, PEP, cancer and STI screening and treatment. STI treatment and counselling is critical for sex workers, and the clinic attends to over 100 people every Friday.”
He said NAC is implementing two programmes in Bindura — the Community Adolescence Treatment Support (CATS), which it partners with the Ministry of Health and Child Care; and Africaid Zvandiri, which is the sister-to-sister programme.
“Research has shown that new infections were coming from sex workers and we had to work with them and train peer educators to educate their peers. We trained 20 sex workers as peer educators. In turn, each peer educator built a case-load of 25 peers, translating to 500.
“They encourage each other to practice safe sex and refer each other to the sister clinic for screening and treatment. We have a one-stop centre at Bindura Hospital for cases of gender-based violence, where some sisters are referred.”
The beneficiaries do risk assessments among themselves.
They report to NAC on a monthly basis.
Young sex workers are usually referred to other organisations like the Institute for Women Development to lessen their chances of continuing with their risky line of work.
A peer educator and former sex worker, Amina, said she left commercial sex work and is now married.
She claims the sister-to-sister programme gave her the courage to quit.
“The most popular drug among sex workers here is called guka, which they use for bravery to sleep with more than 10 clients. The drug keeps them awake for several days and the risk is that they will engage in unprotected sex,” she said.
“I now refer the girls to the sister clinic for free treatment. When they receive treatment and counselling, they think twice about the sex trade. That is how I left the profession. I am now married and I serve as an usher at my church.”