Sex workers have called for the decriminalisation of commercial sex in Nigeria.
They said the step will not only help to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, but also stop violence against sex workers.
Speaking at the Sexual Ethnography Dissemination Workshop in Abuja on Wednesday, the National Coordinator of Nigerian Sex Workers Association, Amaka Anemo, said hypocrisy was behind the continued criminalisation of the sex trade in Nigeria.
Ms. Anemo noted that who go to worship centres to condemn sex workers also go back to patronise them in manners that eventually expose their wives, girlfriends and other people at risk.
“Once a sex worker is infected with HIV, she can transmit it to as many people as possible by sleeping with just one man, who sleeps with his wife and probably his other girlfriend.
“And the girlfriend has a boyfriend who also has another girlfriend and it keeps spreading that way. So, one sex worker can transmit the virus to a hundred people,” she said.
On the risk of being a sex worker, Ms. Anemo said people should realise that everybody faces risk in whatever job they engage in.
She said sex workers face violence from their clients and also from law enforcement agents.
“When a sex worker’s hideout is raided, the law enforcers collect money from them and when there is no money to offer, they offer them sex. Some of these law enforcers don’t even use condoms and the sex worker don’t have much of a choice at that particular time,” she added.
Ms. Anemo therefore urged government to decriminalise commercial sex to enable sex workers work in a conducive environment and have easy access to medical treatments.
She said this will help sex workers to open up and receive proper sensitization from appropriate quarters, without fear of being dehumanized or harassed by law enforcement agencies.
Ms. Anemo’s plea was in reaction to a recent research study on the risk female sex workers face in their job.
The study which was carried out by the Centre for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba, Canada in collaboration with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, covers female sex workers in Nigeria.
The report, titled “Understanding the high risk of urban sexual networks in Nigeria” was partly funded by the World Bank to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV prevention programmes in the country.
Part of the findings are that, while female sex workers may have the highest risk of contracting HIV, women engaging in transactional sex have a higher level of risk as compared to those engaging in casual sex.
It also reveals that young women under 25 years were more involved in all three categories of sex – as sex workers, and in transactional and casual sex.
The Country Coordinator, Center for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba, Kalada Green, said female sex workers are the professionals who get their primary income from sex.
“While those engaging in transactional sex receive gifts in exchange for sex, they still go about their everyday jobs; and the casual sex are those that engage in it just for fun or out of love.”
Mr. Green said the study was inspired by studies done in other parts of the world, especially India.
He noted that most programmes were being done without appropriate consideration for research results and consideration for the type of research necessary to improve programmes.
“So, the World Bank decided to fund a project that will look at the efficiency and effectiveness in improving HIV prevention programme,” he said.
In his speech, the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, Sani Aliyu, called for the implementation of HIV programme in mega stores across the country.
This he said will also help reduce the spread of HIV infections in the country.
Mr. Aliyu, who was represented by the agency’s Director, Strategic Knowledge Management, Kayode Ogungbemi, said the programme will target men and women who visit mega stores with the sole aim of getting sexual partners.
“Many men and women go to the big stores just to look for sexual partners and to network sexually.
“The concern here is that, we need to meet these sets of people with programmes that will enlighten them on the risk of practicing unprotected sex.
“Like we have peer contacts in other settings where we identify a peer that can also identify other people and educate them on the use of condoms and the importance of getting tested.
“So, if we have a programme in such big stores, it will help in reducing the spread of HIV,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, experts at the ongoing International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Science, had called for better strategies to meet the needs of sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs.
They said the global HIV response needs better strategies in order to have greater impact on these sets of people.
The 9th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017) is highlighting innovative efforts to increase access to quality HIV information and services for communities heavily impacted by HIV, but often overlooked by government and community-based responses.
Dozens of sessions and research presentations at IAS 2017 focused on the experiences of members of key populations and on the care providers and programmes that serve them.
These address topics such as supporting men who have sex with men (MSM) to initiate HIV therapy in West Africa; providing stigma-free services to help people who inject drugs remain in HIV care in Ukraine and South Africa; supporting psychological and economic wellbeing and reducing HIV risk for female sex workers in Cambodia; and ensuring access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (Prep) for MSM and transgender women in Brazil.