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    Friday, 15 March 2019

    Masvingo programe for gays and sex workers takes off

    Sex workers at work (File pic).
    MASVINGO – The Population Services International (PSI) in Masvingo District recently held a meeting of stakeholders to review Key Populations (KPs), an HIV and STIs programme targeting very high risk groups.
    The review called Key Populations Quarter Stakeholders Review was for the last three months of the year from October to December 2018.
    The review meeting brought together stakeholders like the Provincial Administrator, Masvingo Provincial AIDS coordinator, District Nursing Officer Ministry of Health, National Aids Council, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and members of the general public.
    Key Populations mainly refers to commercial sex workers and men who have sex with other men (MSM) as these are considered very high risk groups in terms of contracting and transmitting STIs and HIV.
    These groups are at high risk because of a number of reasons including that they have multiple sex partners and they are stigmatised and segregated by both society and health service providers hence a special programme that covers them on HIV and STIs.
     The Key Populations Programme involves mobilizing these groups for testing, screening for STIs, initiation on Art if they are found to be HIV positive and on PREP if they are negative.
    PSI and its partners in the programme namely CeSHHAR which is into sex workers and is stationed at Mucheke clinic in Mucheke and Hands of Hope which is into gays and is based at the New Start Centre in Masvingo gave their reports on activities for the quarter.
    Key issues looked into by the reports included the number of KPs who had accessed HIV testing services, number of KPs initiated on ART and PREP, numbers of condoms and lubricants distributed to KPs and the need to roll out KP programs to public hospitals.
    There was discussion on the way forward on improving uptake of clinical services, HIV testing, STI screening and treatment and correct and consistent use of condoms.
    Mike Chipepere who is the PSI KP program officer said the groups mentioned plus the LGBTIs (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) had to have a special HIV and Aids programme because they find it difficult to visit public health services centres because they are shunned. Under the programe, PSI and its peer educators goes out and look for people under these groups in their homes and in the streets at night.
    “Commercial sex workers and gays are people with a low health seeking behavior but at the same time they are at a very high risk. The KP programme was started around 2017 to ensure that they access health services in order to help contain the spread of HIV and Aids and STIs.
    “Imagine a man going to a clinic with an anal STI, chances are that health officials may call each other to come and see the unusual illness but at the same time they stigmatise that patient. The same happens with commercial sex workers, they are stigmatized when they go to a clinic and hospital and as a result they stop going there for treatment.
    “With the KP programme, workers from PSI visit these groups in their homes and in private places. At night we go out into the streets and meet commercials sex workers. We carry our kits and test them and immediately put them either on ART or PREP depending on their status,” said Chipepera.
    It was noted in the quarterly reports that there was an increase in the uptake of clinical services in Mucheke among the KPs. However, there was also an increase in STI cases in December. There was also a reported shortage of STI drugs, said Chipepera.
    The programme is currently focused on Masvingo District only and the review meeting emphasized the need to spread it to other districts.
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