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Soc Sci Med. 1990;31(5):609-18.

A pilot study for an HIV prevention programme among commercial sex workers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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Department of Psychology, University of Zimbabwe, Mount Pleasant.


In a health education pilot study for a programme to reduce HIV transmission among commercial sex workers (CSWs), 113 CSWs were interviewed and observed in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe during 1989. The educational level of the sample was low and less than a quarter had another job, either as a self-employed vendor/hawker or a domestic servant. Inability to earn income in other ways was the major reason cited for engaging in commercial sex. Nearly half the sample went for check-ups every 3 months or more often. All interviewees had heard about AIDS, but they were uniformed about several facets of AIDS. CSWs reported that they worked an average of 3.6 nights a week, averaged 1.3 clients a night and charged a mean of U.S. $2.8 a session and U.S. $6.5 a night. CSWs reportedly saw a total of 221 clients in the past 7 days and used condoms with 87 (39.3%) clients. Nearly all CSWs said they had done something to reduce the risk of getting AIDS, but when asked what they had done, only 40% said they were using condoms more frequently and many cited ineffective precautions. CSWs who had a job, charged higher fees, experienced little client violence and believed that they were susceptible to AIDS were more likely to use condoms. Clients were a cross-section of Bulawayo society, with widely varying education, incomes and occupations and shared little except an interest in commercial sex. Ethnographic approaches demonstrated a lack of cohesion among CSWs and a consequent need to foster organized, motivated groups for health education, the importance of incorporating clients in health education and the feasibility of using bar security and sales personnel as health educators. It is concluded that health education is urgently needed among CSWs, but that it is equally important to direct health interventions at clients, many of whom are resistant to condom use.

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