In a classic case of the left and right hand not working together, the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA) was working on a pro-prostitution project at the time that the Ministry of Health (MoH) launched its own anti-prostitution campaign. More crucially, the latter campaign shows that Botswana, which has the second highest infection rate in the world after Swaziland, is not marching in lockstep with the United Nations and other international organisations in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Sunday Standard learns that the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – otherwise known as UNAIDS, was working with the Department of Women Affairs (DWA) in MLHA on a project to sensitise the political leadership about commercial sex work in order that they can develop appropriate intervention strategies. However, midway through, the government launched a campaign to clear sex workers off the streets, with citizens being detained and foreigners deported. The campaign, which started in November last year and will run for six months, will also entail an MoH media programme that will sensitise the public about the health hazards of prostitution. On the other hand, DWA had opted for a more scientific approach to the problem, partnering with UNAIDS which has developed what it calls a “Technical Update” with the technical assistance from a panel of international experts.
The Update focuses on the challenges in the protection of those involved in sex work and states that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has highlighted the need for responses on three levels: prevention of entry into sex work, protection of those involved in sex work and assistance in exiting from sex work. It says that in countries where selling sex is forbidden and has been made both illegal and punishable, “sex work is likely to become increasingly clandestine, making HIV/AIDS and STI prevention and care activities nearly impossible to implement.”
It adds that since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, significantly higher rates of HIV infection have been documented among populations involved in sex work than in most other population groups, and recent studies continue to confirm this pattern among female, male and transsexual sex workers. In numerous countries, sex workers face higher rates of HIV infection.
UNAIDS’ position is that legal sex work has benefits from a public health perspective. A government source says that the police/MoH campaign amounts to “sabotage” because it impedes the continuation of the UNAIDS programme. UNAIDS is co-sponsored by the office of the united nations high commissioner for refugees, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the World health Organisation, the World Bank and UN Women.