Times are certainly changing, just last two weeks, the Deputy President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, announced the rolling out of the Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) plan which aims to have the state provide a once-daily pill for sex workers that will reduce their risk of contracting HIV.
The intervention was announced at the launch of the South African National Sex Worker HIV Plan in Johannesburg, the pill will be an antiretroviral consisting of the drugs tenofovir and emtricitabine. The plan which requires the PrEP to be delivered along with other HIV prevention methods also insists that antiretrovirals be made available to all sex workers who test positive for HIV regardless of CD4 count. In his announcement, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the plan is “affirming the right of all South Africans to life, to dignity, to health”. He made some important points along the lines of the move being in favor of human rights and said rightly that sex workers also have families who love and appreciate them.
The World Health Organization is especially approving of South Africa’s move and the country has been recognized as the first to translate the September 2015, WHO recommendations on PrEP offering as an additional prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV, into national policy. With the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world, having almost 6.3 million living with HIV and an estimation of 20% of new HIV infections stemming from sex work, South Africa may actually have had no logical second choice in the matter.
The announcement therefore raises an interesting question which Ramaphosa highlighted in his announcement when he admitted; that as plans for the intervention unfold, the country will have to deal with the legal status of sex work. Does this mean that all the work of the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) is about to bear fruit, in South Africa at least? Are we looking at the dawn of a new age where sex work will indeed be seen as normal work with legislation arming them with appropriate rights?
No matter what feelings the answer to those questions may incite in you, it is obvious that sex work can no longer be ignored, whether it’s Tanzania’s recent crackdown on sex workers or this particular plan by South Africa which we must note is more focused on combating HIV than well, sex workers, this long standing question on the place of sex work in our societies is demanding an answer and that answer must come soon.