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Prostitutes Persuade Clients To Screen For HIV/AIDS 

By Marriane Enow Tabi

prostitutesMany prostitutes in major towns of Cameroon are now acting as health animators as they go about convincing clients to go in for HIV/AID screening.

According to recent studies on HIV/AIDs prevalence, most sex workers already know their vulnerability to disease and have taken charge of their health by getting tested and following up treatment if tested positive.

The challenge, going by the studies, now lie with male clients who are major vectors of HIV transmission, with most of them linking prostitutes with a high HIV sero-prevalence to the general population of women assumed to have a lower prevalence.

Also, most data collected amongst male clients are inconsistent and almost not available given that many are still shy to admit that they visit sex workers.

It is within this perspective to reduce HIV transmission, that CARE Cameroon in collaboration with Horizons Femmes and other technical partners, initiated the new HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC) strategy under the Continuum for Prevention, Care and Treatment (CoPCT) of HIV/AIDs with Most at-risk Populations, CHAMP.

The strategy empowers female sex workers in major cities like Yaounde, Bamenda and Douala to mobilise clients to do the HIV test.

According to the strategy, the sex worker gets FCFA 500 for each client she brings for testing in any of the mini laboratories planted around their hub of work.

According to Dr. Flavien Ndonko, a CHAMP Project staff, the new strategy is aimed at reaching as many clients as possible in a bid to reduce transmission of HIV infection within the male client group, thereby having a considerable impact in slowing down the spread of HIV in the country.

Dr. Ndonko said most sex workers are now aware of their status and are concerned about their health, which makes them the best group to be used in mobilising others.

“Most female sex workers regularly do their HIV test. They control themselves and use preservatives when necessary.

It is, however, a different ball game with clients.

Most clients don’t have any level of control.

Most even prefer paying an extra fee just to have sex without condom, putting themselves and the sex workers at risk,” said Ndonko.

To Ndonko, using sex workers as health animators will boost the clients to come for testing since there is trust.

He said, “These female sex workers are exclusively mobilising people they just had sex with. The clients somehow trust them.

Thus, when majority of these population know their status, the situation can be minimised since each person is automatically identified in the system and followed up.”

Dr. Ndonko noted that this is the best way to reach male clients who otherwise will not admit they visit sex worker.

From Sex To Test

While visiting some hot spots and mobile community laboratories on December 16 at Mini Ferme neighbourhood in Yaounde, this reporter could see clients ranging from young school boys to men in uniform conducting their HIV test under the inducement of sex workers.

One of the clients who preferred anonymity said they were surprised that it is the sex worker who is persuading them to take the test.

“I am shocked by such a gesture. But then again I agreed to do it because she said she has done hers and besides it is for my health,” said the client.

To most of them, the laboratories being just close by their hub of operation and with little publicity enhanced their decision.

Another client said what convinced him was the counselling at the various laboratories and the fact that the results are given instantly.

For their part, most of the prostitutes at the Mini Ferme said they feel fulfilled convincing clients to do their HIV test.

Hear them: “It is like giving back to community and gaining from it. We are helping people to know about their health and getting money from it.”

When asked if they found it difficult convincing clients, most of them answered in the negative stating how easy it is.

“We don’t force the clients. We just tell them we have done ours and that it is good they did theirs. We also tell them that they are not obliged to show us their results,” they said.

Meanwhile, the laboratory technicians sounded very positive about the exercise, stating that they will definitely reach their target of 60,000 clients.

One of them, Jeanne Delphine Cpankeng, said they receive 25-30 clients per site a day where they identify, counsel and eventually test them.

Through this new HIV Testing and Counseling strategy by CHAMP, clients are mobilised on a monthly basis during weekends (Thursday and Saturday evenings). The same strategy will be carried out by female sex workers in Douala and Bamenda.

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