Sex workers highly exposed to COVID-19

By Albert Sibanda

Commercial sex workers in Bulawayo have revealed they are exposed to coronavirus as they fight for survival amid tough economic conditions in the country.

Sex workers’ job requires contact with the opposite sex which is one of the things that health experts have advised against as a measure to curb the spread of the deadly disease.

The deadly global pandemic that was first reported in China in December 2019, had by 9 April infected more than two million people worldwide and killed more one hundred thousand people.

Since President Mnangagwa effected a 21-day lockdown to contain coronavirus in the country, a majority of sex workers have moved from the streets and are taking call-in clients at their homes.

In separate interviews, sex workers expressed a grim picture of their vulnerability to the coronavirus.

Nobuhle Nyoni who has been in the commercial sex business for eight years said they have since adopted other means to lure their clients such that they can make ends meet under these difficult times.

“A client phones and comes to my place then I offer him a sexual service. The client could be coughing or sneezing but there is no way I could refuse the money since it’s my way of survival,” said Nyoni.

“He could sneeze in the blankets and infect the blankets or any surface in the house. Any member of the family could touch the infected surface and contract the virus. To make matters worse I could not detect whether my client has coronavirus and even if he has it he would n’t reveal it to me, as a result, I’m highly exposed to the coronavirus.”

She added: “I make little money since the business is on the downturn and I don’t have money to disinfect the house.”

Another sex worker Siphiwe Moyo (23) echoed the same sentiments saying since she has been operating from home and she makes little money from her trade.

“From the streets I used to make more than a $1000 a month but in the past week I made a paltry $250 .I know my life is at risk because with other viruses, you can protect yourself but this one gets to you just by inhaling it or being in contact with a person who has it. But what can I do because this is the only way to survive and I have no other source of livelihood,” said Moyo.

The government has failed to recognise key populations such as sex workers leaving them exposed as there are no programmes tailor-made to empower them.

“Our government does not roll out information on health matters to us since they do not recognise us that is why some of my colleagues who do not have radio sets or television at their homes end up relying on fake news or rumours from WhatsApp, as a result, they are still at risk of contracting the coronavirus,” said Moyo.

However, Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) a non –governmental organisation that champions the rights and welfare of sex workers has come in handy in rolling out information to sex workers.

SRC Programmes manager Mojalifa Mokoele Ndlovu said they have been rolling out information through WhatsApp groups to about 2000 sex workers.

“We have a list of sex workers and we have held campaigns to create awareness and we advised them to heed the government’s order and stay at home during the 21 day lockdown.

“In those groups, there are health experts from Bulawayo City Council and Mpilo Central hospital who are always ready to help by answering questions from our members,” Ndlovu said.

He added: “We usually post information on how to avoid coronavirus and we allow the group members to ask any questions whenever they feel like. As a result, there is a positive sign that the levels of awareness about the virus have risen.”

Zimbabwe population is estimated to be 14million about 400 have been tested for COVID-19 so far. 

Most of the sex workers do not disclose that they are in the sex trade industry and they do it under the cover of darkness and secrecy. So far no sex worker has come out to declare that she has tested positive.

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