Reaching out to sex workers as a population vulnerable to HIV is part of the country’s strategic health plan, SA National Aids Council CEO Fareed Abdullah said.
He said part of the plan was to prevent new HIV infections and this meant helping the "key populations", which represented most of the new infections.
These efforts would have a "profound effect". Abdullah said the plan recognised sex workers as a key population.
HIV prevalence among sex workers was estimated at between 44 and 69% in South Africa.
"If there is nothing else we do at Sanac in the next two years, we should be supporting, not driving, a national sex workers’ programme," Abdullah said.
Sex workers vulnerable to abuse
The plan, called the National Strategic Plan 2012-2016, is the country’s strategy for combating HIV and tuberculosis. Abdullah said that despite the title, it was a 20-year plan to reduce infections, death and discrimination against people with HIV to zero.
However, the goal was "more an aspiration rather than a technical timetable", Abdullah said.
While the National Strategic Plan to combat HIV recognised sex workers, it came under criticism at a two-day sex workers’ symposium in Boksburg, where Abdullah was speaking.
Sex worker activist Shane Tetzer criticised it for not proposing the decriminalisation of sex work.
"As a sex worker, I don’t find anything in this plan for decriminalisation," said Tetzer. "How can you talk about outreach and an enabling environment without decriminalisation?"
Tetzer said without this, they were vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from authorities, including the police. "Decriminalisation, that is what you should be totally about, finish and klaar."
Abdullah acknowledged it was an important issue that had been raised in previous National Strategic Plans, but had not been taken forward. He said proponents of decriminalisation had to push it through a legislative process to Parliament. "Let’s not shout from the balcony and let’s do things properly," Abdullah said. He said if the matter could be brought to Parliament, it would force political foes of the decriminalisation of sex work to explain their positions.
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