HIV positive sex workers are still actively plying the trade in Blantrye, Malawi to buy food, clothes and pay rent.
My undercover investigations in Chilomoni, Bangwe and Mbayani show an alarming number of HIV positive sex-workers on Anti-retroviral (ARVs) treatment still plying the streets with girls as young as 14 especially orphans joining the sex industry.
Young men are also servicing gay and bi-sexual men after “cruising” in lodges and hotels.
An estimated 70 percent of commercial sex workers are believed to be HIV positive, a potential risk for spreading the virus although Malawi reduced the HIV prevalence rate to 12 percent surveys indicate.
Natasha (not real name) like others told me she is tired of being a hooker and loitering near bars, rest houses and street corners. She bemoaned lacking sufficient funds to start a business and feed her son.
She only went as far as Standard 6 in school and lives in fear of being arrested by police for rogue and vagabond.
Many sex-workers attribute poverty as the reason for “selling sex“ even while infected.
Investigations show that some commercial sex workers who became terminally ill last year with a CD4 count way below 200 are now back in business and on ARVs.
Caleb Ng’ombo behind an NGO called People Serving Girls at Risk agrees with calls to criminalise deliberate spreading of the HIV virus while also looking at contributing factors such as poverty.
Criminal transmission trials have been held in many countries and those arrested for deliberately spreading HIV include a Malawian asylum to the United Kingdom jailed for 10 years.
Blantyre Child Justice Court magistrate Esmie Tembenu has since called for government to establish a reformatory centre for girls since those in conflict with the law are usually associated with prostitution.
She observed that offences of the girl-child are usually associated with prostitution which needs intensive rehabilitation and counselling for them to change.