By Benjamin Lutimba Mutebi
Although commercial sex work is not the greatest risk behaviour under the modes of HIV transmission in Uganda with reference to the 2004/05 Uganda HIV Sero-Behavioral Survey, commercial sex workers in Uganda have one of the highest rates of HIV infections in the world according to the LANCET medical journal.
Therefore, the Government should come in to address the problem. The numbers revealed in such surveys help us to know the magnitude of the problem and so it becomes our mandate as Ugandans and the Government to address such issues.
The recent HIV Indicator survey also revealed that the likelihood of new HIV infections among sex workers stands at close to 15% but much as this looks to be a small percentage, there is a possibility of growing bigger than that and, therefore, it deserves early efforts to curb it.
Let us not think like those who say that; “If 10% of road accidents are due to drunken driving, then it is logical that 90% are due to non-drunken driving” and then they continue drinking because the 10% is very small.
I have had the opportunity to move across both rural and urban major towns in Uganda for a while and it is evident that this problem is growing day by day. It will be hard to totally wipe it out of society but it can be regulated just like the case is in some developed countries.
I do not mean to say we adopt whatever is in the developed countries but putting in place control measures surrounding this business would help society.
Unlike in Uganda where commercial sex workers are stationed wherever they want, most developed countries have areas called ‘red light zones’ which shows some in-country level of organisation.
I have read a number of publications about commercial sex workers in Uganda and the most prevalent reason is related to socio-economic factors.
I, therefore, believe that once these people are helped to organise themselves, allowed to work in only gazetted areas and protected by the law, they can even form groups such as SACCOs through which the Government can channel its support.
This can in turn transform them and even move out of the business otherwise continuous condom support alone by projects might not impact society.
The minister of Ethics and Integrity can take up this and would not be practical for the honorable minister to say that this would be asking for too much from the Government. It might sound weird but on the other hand, the country’s image is damaged more when the business is done on streets.
When you visit Uganda’s major towns, there are so many mushrooming lodges targeting this business and indeed they are surviving because of it. A few of these target travelers and people on field work trips but the majority of the small lodges are into it.
This is evident from the way they ‘pad’ the room mattresses with PVC material. At this rate, I give credit to some hotels which are not only after money but also try to control this kind of work by not allowing in commercial sex workers into their premises.
However, this also comes with a challenge of failure to define who a commercial sex worker is when they come to check in.
Also, with the current myths surrounding medical male circumcision, I am surprised that experts from the Ministry of Health have not yet launched a public campaign in the media to sensitise the public to clear these such that this government programme does not get a setback.
The design of information, communication and education material about circumcision should also be done by a strong team of communication experts as some of these are difficult to understand to the target population.
For some posters like ‘I am proud to have a circumcised husband’ it is true that some people think that when they get circumcised, they are 100% immune to HIV infections and this might eventually lead them to risky behaviour such as getting involved in commercial sex work.
I also believe that as the Government handles the problem of commercial sex work, the rest of us should address transactional sex as it is a related problem especially amongst the youth in our society.
I am not an activist of prostitution but the fact is that it exists in society and is also contributing a reasonable percentage to new HIV infections in our country.
The Government should, therefore, choose between having commercial sex work as a punishable crime or a regulated profession.
The writer is a Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist