Amina is a peer educator trained by Family Planning Association of Malawi’s (FPAM) Linkages project.
“I am a HIV positive sex worker and a peer educator,” she says. “I have 51 other sex workers in my care, I inform them on testing and treatment, also about STI treatment and condom use. I teach about the disadvantages of sharing ART (anti-retroviral therapy) and encourage them to go for tuberculosis testing if they are coughing.”
Another educator called Cecilia adds: “I reached out to 60 female sex workers. We are all friends and they trust me. I refer them to services and we address abuse by the police. They rape us and steal our money but through the project, we can follow up since the project has access to the managers of the police.”
Basic sexual health information
Her colleague Florence says: “It also helped that the rogue and vagabond law was repealed.”
The law was a permanent curfew, giving the police the power to round up, fine or jail anybody who was on the streets after eight o’clock at night.
Lucy, also a peer educator, says part of the work is giving basic information. “I teach my friends on HIV and GBV (gender-based violence),” she explains. “And I teach how to use condoms and lubricants and how to persuade clients to use condoms. I also talk about family planning. Many female sex workers do not know they need it.”
“The project helped me with condoms and I shared that with others,” says another client of the programme, Angela. “Through the project, I got tested for HIV and treated for STIs. I also encourage pregnant sex workers to go for pre-natal care so that they do not infect their babies. It is the first time that an organisation like FPAM worked with us. We got respected within the community because we are knowledgeable.”
In the year the Linkages project ran, 627 female sex workers were supported in getting tested for HIV, the initiation of anti-retroviral treatment and therapy adherence. 2,700 women were referred to services and many more received information. The HIV prevalence rate among female sex workers went down from 77% to 62%.
Global Gag Rule effects
FPAM’s Linkages project was phased out in 2016 due to the Global Gag Rule. The effects are keenly felt amongst those who benefitted from the project:
Amina says: “Many stopped taking medication. Healthcare facilities are not for us. I sing in a church choir, which is important to me. If they find out what I do, they will throw me out.”
“My family thinks I work at a filling station at night,” says Lucy.
Cecilia adds: “This project has to come back, please bring it back. If not, we will all die early.”