Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa
The launch of the South African government’s National Sex Worker HIV Plan has been welcomed, with a call to extend the measures to men who have sex with men (MSM).
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled the plan on Friday in Johannesburg. “It is about affirming the rights of all South Africans to life, dignity and health, regardless of their occupation, sexual orientation and circumstances,” he said.
A coordinated national sex worker HIV prevention, care and treatment approach, the plan includes the provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication and early treatment to sex workers.
PrEP is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs, which if taken daily by HIV negative individuals, can drastically reduce HIV infection.
“We have to grasp the challenges of how we deal with the legal status of sex workers and also how our current laws are going to have to balance the interests of sex workers as well as the needs of society as a whole,” said Ramaphosa.
The plan’s launch was welcomed by the Anova Health Institute, the NGO behind the Health4Men and WeTheBrave HIV campaigns targeting gay, bi and other MSM.
Anova noted that sex workers and MSM are the most at risk populations for HIV acquisition and transmission. The group said it believes that PrEP is the most effective form of prevention from HIV and that it should also be provided to MSM.
“We have been working closely with government in defining policy and urge them to extend access to PrEP to MSM as soon as possible,” said Professor James McIntyre, CEO of Anova.
PrEP use by gay, bisexual and MSM, especially those at high risk, has been recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“MSM continue to be at high risk for HIV acquisition in South Africa. The strongest evidence base worldwide for the use of PrEP comes from studies in MSM and Anova believes that this life saving intervention should be made available as soon as possible for all those who wish to use it,” said McIntyre
According to SANAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Fareed Abdullah, around 72 percent of sex workers in the Johannesburg area live with HIV. He said that the new plan aims to reach about 70 000 sex workers within three years.