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J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Mar 1;68 Suppl 2:S131-7. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000455.

"It's all about making a life": poverty, HIV, violence, and other vulnerabilities faced by young female sex workers in Kumasi, Ghana.

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*Department of Global Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA; †Center for Global Health and Development, Boston University, Boston, MA; ‡Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, School of Medical Sciences, Kumasi, Ghana; §Ghana Health Service, Kumasi, Ghana; ‖United States Agency for International Development, Yaounde, Cameroon; and ¶FHI360, Accra, Ghana.



This study aimed to identify social, economic, structural, and individual-level vulnerabilities of female adolescents who sell sex in Kumasi, Ghana.


Twenty-four in-depth interviews and 4 focus group discussions were conducted with female sex workers of age 18-20 years who had been involved in sex work for at least 2 years. Total sample size was 48.


One-third of participants started sex work before age 15. Knowledge of HIV was accurate and most reported having intentions to use condoms consistently with clients; however, factors such as higher payments, drug and/or alcohol use, fear of violence, and police harassment affected condom use. They perceived violence and rape at the hands of clients as their greatest risk. They also reported abuse and exploitation by police. Respondents voiced strong concerns that girls and teens involved in sex work are at higher risk of unsafe sex, exploitation, and abuse than their older and more experienced counterparts. Unprotected sex with boyfriends was also common.


The pathway to sex work followed a similar pattern for many study participants who left their rural homes for Kumasi in search of economic opportunity. While adolescents who sell sex appear to be abundant in Kumasi, they have been missed by HIV prevention and harm reduction programming. The findings from this study informed the design and implementation of a young female sex worker peer educator pilot program. Key elements of that program are presented, and recommendations for future program evaluation are made.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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