Fighting HIV among male/trans sex workers in Cameroon

Published: January 3, 2013

Sex work is considered illegal in Cameroon. Prostitution and solicitation are penalized by Article 343 of the Penal Code, providing prison sentences of six months to five years and fines of 20,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($39 to $976). Paradoxically, the number of sex workers is increasing, reaching an estimated total of 20,145 in 2006.

In 2004, an estimated 3 percent of men reported having had sex with a sex worker; among men whose marriage had broken down, the percentage was 6 percent. HIV infection is growing among sex workers: it rose from 26.4 percent in 2004 to 36.7 percent in 2009.

Sex workers therefore are a high-priority target of the National Strategic Plan for the Fight Against HIV, AIDS and STIs and of the strategy for intervention with vulnerable populations, using Series 10 financing from the Global Fund. Yet no program is specifically designed to target male sex workers.

That shortcoming is the subject of the following interview with Adonis Tchoudja, president of Aids Acodev Cameroon, an organization that focuses on fighting HIV among this minority population.

Adonis, could you explain how did the Aids Acodev Cameroon association was formed?

Aids Acodev Cameroon was created in 2009 by a group of young sex workers who were aware that sex work can increase the risk of contracting STIs, especially HIV and viral hepatitis.

Initially, our organization was called Acodes Cameroon Sex Workers, but we ran into difficulties in getting official approval to register it under that name in the Douala region. As a result, we changed the name to Aids Acodev Cameroon, which stands for Aid to Underprivileged and Vulnerable People in Cameroon.

What is the mission of Aids Acodev Cameroon?

Aids Acodev Cameroon campaigns for the human rights of sex workers, particularly their right to have access to medical services, information, training and education. We also fight against all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, real or imagined.

More specifically, what types of activities do you do? Which audiences are you targeting?

Our actions are aimed at sex workers, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We conduct an educational night patrol that visits hot spots of the City of Douala, such as brothels, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and massage parlors.

Aids Acodev is also active on some online dating sites and conducts educational talks to some workers’ homes.

We also act as advocates in the community around us, especially the religious community, for acceptance of sex workers and homosexuals.

Programs already exist in the city of Douala that target sex workers and men who have sex with men. Why did you decide to work with this population? What is special about your work?

We work with male and transgender sex workers who otherwise are unserved by any prevention and care program. The national program and community actions targeting sex workers are only for women. As the same time, community programs targeting men who have sex with men (MSM) are not interested in MSM who sell sexual services. Sex work and transactional sex, though they are widespread in the LGBT community, remain taboo or stigmatized.

In addition, organizations that work with sex workers seek to abolish prostitution, while we believe that sex work has been socially necessary since the dawn of time, which should be recognized and protected in the public interest by states.

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