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South African activists call for the decriminalisation of sex work to protect human rights and reduce spread of HIV. Johannesburg, South Africa - In the shadow of an underpass, wearing a black bob wig, Tlaleng paces along her patch of Nugget Street, scanning the downtown Johannesburg traffic. Behind her, other women lead clients behind the crumbling walls of a gutted building in the brisk morning light.
Up since dawn, she is eager to finish her shift. The year-old mother of two came to South Africa's economic hub with dreams of becoming a clothes designer. Until then, selling sex keeps a roof over her head. I want to make a living for my kids. But along the "stroll", many have been raped or forced into unprotected sex. Peer educators, who are current or former sex workers engaged in outreach work, had visited Tlaleng on the stroll and told her about the new drug.
These peer educators are the "backbone" of the HIV plan. The three-year initiative promises to reach 70, sex workers through 1, peer educators from across South Africa, aiming to reduce HIV and improve access to testing and treatment. With one of the highest rates of HIV in the world - at South Africa's national strategy for tackling HIV is radical compared with other nations. With their demand of "nothing for us without us", sex worker-led organisations such as the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce directly helped to draft the plan.
As South Africa hosted the International Aids Summit last summer, amid heckling from sex worker rights activists, Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery stated that only criminal cases had been filed against sex workers in the past three years. Since , the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and Amnesty International have declared support for the decriminalisation of sex work, to improve access to human rights, healthcare and reduce the risk of HIV, with reports from The Lancet medical journal suggesting that decriminalisation would have the greatest effect on HIV epidemics, averting percent of infections over the next decade.
Peer educators operate mobile health clinics to reach those on the streets, turning rented rooms in nearby brothels into impromptu testing spots. More than people selling sex in Johannesburg sat on plastic chairs in the clinic's waiting area as peer educators explained how PrEP worked: Similar to birth control, the pill, taken every day, could give protection against the virus.