South Africa has come a long way in dealing with AIDS. The country has been successful in getting drug treatment to millions of people infected with HIV.
But the country still has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world — and the virus continues to spread. Nearly 400,000 South Africans are infected with HIV each year.
One health clinic in the heart of Johannesburg is attempting to break the HIV cycle by focusing on people at extremely high risk for infection — prostitutes.
Some researchers estimate that about two-thirds of sex workers in South Africa are HIV positive. Providing them with basic health care, including access to antiviral drugs, can save their lives while reducing the chance that they’ll spread HIV to clients.
The University of the Witwatersrand is running clinics specifically for prostitutes.
One of its clinics in Johannesburg is located in the densely populated neighborhood of Hillbrow. It’s an area known for drugs, poverty and prostitution.
After dark, Hillbrow takes on a post-apocalyptic feel. Storefronts are barred behind steel shutters. High-rise buildings with no electricity have been taken over by squatters and loom above the haze of the streetlamps.
The streets are eerily empty except for the occasional nervous pedestrian and pockets of prostitutes. At one corner, plump, middle-aged women hover around open fires waiting to sell sex.
A woman, who gives her name as Brenda, says she came to Johannesburg from Zimbabwe 18 years ago. Prostitution is illegal in South Africa, so she only wants to use her first name.
"I was working in a restaurant, and my shop was closed," she says. "Now I don’t have money to pay my rent and my food and everything — or to help my parents [back in Zimbabwe]. That’s why I’m here."
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