HIV is literally a sex-work coin flip in South Africa

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It took me a second while reading this article about potentially legalizing sex work in South Africa prior to next year’s football [soccer] World Cup — to realize that sex there with a pro is now a 50-50 gamble for contracting HIV/AIDS for the average customer. We’re on the edge of something: pandemic — over the falls for sure, but perhaps we may be at a breaking point shift that brings reality into an arena driven to disaster by moral and religious hysteria. Snip:

Calls are growing for South Africa to legalise prostitution ahead of next year’s football World Cup in an effort to limit HIV infection among millions of fans visiting the country for the tournament.

A leading health specialist told the Observer that the World Cup presented a huge risk and said there was an urgent need to start registering prostitutes and screening them for the virus. It is estimated that 50% of the country’s sex workers are infected. (…) Around 3.2 million tickets will be sold for the matches. (…) He called for legal frameworks to regulate the practice of sex workers rather than discriminate against them.

“Interim legalisation of prostitution would be best for the country, rather than leaving it uncontrolled,” he said. “Sex workers need to register with a board that will regulate their practice and give certification to practise, but they have to go through a mandatory HIV testing process first, and only those who test negative will be allowed to practise.”

South Africa is the centre of the global HIV epidemic, with more than five million adults infected. An estimated one in two of working prostitutes is living with the virus and the lack of medication led to a quarter of a million people dying of Aids-related illnesses there last year. The antiretroviral medication that helps prevent HIV developing into full-blown Aids is being taken by fewer than 30% of those infected.

Infection rates among women aged 15 to 24 declined slightly from 22.1% in 2007 to 21.7% in 2008, but among women in the 30 to 34 age group, the infection rate was 40.4% in 2008. (…more,

And, today Obama promised to finally end the US military’s harmful ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on homosexuality. He gave no timetable, which would be very much appreciated by pretty much everyone, even us straight(ish) girls. Hopeful, but waiting…

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  1. Hi y’all! I work on HIV in Africa, and wanted to comment.

    It is clear what you mean – there is a real risk for at least half of customers. But it’s not entirely accurate to say that “sex with a pro is now a 50-50 gamble for contracting HIV/AIDS” among uninfected customers. The actual probability of HIV transmission per sexual act is much lower than 1 – it’s actually surprisingly low per act, if you look at the best statistics on it.

    Of course, it gets higher (potentially much higher) under various circumstances: in acute (that is, primary or early) HIV infection; with active genital herpes; for receptive compared to insertive intercourse; and so on. But it certainly isn’t on average “have sex once, and you’ve got HIV” – at least, not according to the best science on the subject.

    You also say “[w]e’re on the edge of something”. I would say South Africa is over the edge. SA, despite having a pretty small population (50 million-ish) has the most HIV-infected people of any country in the world (including freaking China and India, according to available stats).

    Along these lines, the major US conference on HIV and AIDS (CROI) will be in San Francisco in February. You should look into a press pass.

  2. I’ve been working on a series of articles about HIV work here in Southern Africa (I moved here to do said work a few months ago). One point I find most fascinating is that yes, indeed, the crisis is CAUSING a shift that allows sexuality to be more open, and creates a push for gender equality. I confess that every once in a while I’ll be observing an event or a workshop or a school and I’ll catch myself thinking, “Thank God for HIV — otherwise all these issues could have stayed buried for decades or centuries or ever!” Then I scold myself for being a horrible person, of course.

    I have to say, though, Violet, that your assertion that “moral & religious hysteria” is at fault for the extent of the AIDS pandemic here isn’t quite — to my eye — true. Cultural ideas of sex and gender are more at fault than the Church, and those ideas were here pre-Church. Also, religious groups are doing an enormous amount of excellent work here — frequently way more sex-positive than anything you’ll see in the US. Just the other day I observed a Christian educational workshop that covered everything from sex work to homosexuality to marital rape in a very detailed, nonjudgmental (well, it judged marital rape cruelly) fashion. Can you imagine that workshop existing anywhere in the USA besides San Francisco or NY?

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