CAROL Kibuga, a sex worker in Iringa Municipal Council, had not heard of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) until the Community Based Health Services Provider (CBHSP) under Sauti Project convinced her to enrol for the service.
Sauti Project, led by Jhpiego, is funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Ms Kibuga (24), a mother of one and resident of Kihesa Ward explains that it all started six years ago after experiencing difficulties in her daily life.
“I started this job at the age of 18, it just happened. Sex became my main source of income though at first it seemed ludicrous. But I was desperate,” she explains.
Ms Kibuga, who completed her secondary education at one of secondary schools in Iringa Region, says life became difficult after her mother abandoned her.
She says her mother left her to her grandmother, who was incapable of taking care of her. According to Ms Kibuga, her father also did not pay attention to the family, she was, therefore, raised by her grandmother.
“My mother abandoned me, when I was in Form Two. I was 16 years old by then. My father also didn’t care about me, he was not living with us and it was difficult to get anything from him,” she explains.
Difficult life and lack of parental care exposed Ms Kibuga to risky behaviour at a tender age. She says men started buying her chips and took advantage of her problems. “Some men used to buy me chips when I was still studying.
That was when things started changing,” she explains.
Selling second hand clothes while hunting for men
Being a single mother, Ms Kibuga decided to engage in a secondhand clothes business. According to her, 15,000/- is enough for her to buy clothes at a wholesale price and sell them to customers. “I always spend 15,000/- on buying clothes, which I sell to customers and get not less than 40,000/- I, therefore, make up to 25,000/- profit, when it is a good day,” says Ms Kibuga. However, Ms Kibuga admits that selling clothes on the streets is another way of hunting for men.
In this case, Ms Kibuga has very limited time to rest. She walks down the streets selling her second hand clothes during the day and spends hours with men at night.
“I always meet my ‘customers’ on the streets while selling second hand clothes. This is my life,” she says.
Uses of PrEP
Being a sex worker, Ms Kibuga comes across several challenges, including meeting stubborn men, who she refers to as ‘customers’. She says some of them do not like to use protective gear, which is a big risk for her and her customers.
According to Ms Kibuga, she was informed of the PreP in October, 2018 by Community Based Health Services Provider (CBHSP) Leyla Mfugale, who works with Sauti project.
She says the CBHSP educated her about issues related to risky behaviour and best practices to minimise the risk. “It is obvious that when some of my friends especially my ‘customers’ ask me if I am scared of HIV/AIDS, I would say No, but to tell the truth it is not the thing someone would like to come across with," she says.
She adds: "I was surprised and shocked when the CBHSP told me that there were drugs for protecting me from contracting HIV/AIDS. I felt more protected."
According to Ms Kibuga, after consultation with nurses, who were brought by the CBHSP, she started using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
She admits that her lifestyle heightened the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, as she had frequently been having unprotected sex with men. PrEP is a preventative medicine, which fights the virus if an HIV-negative person comes into contact with it through unprotected sex. “I believe PrEP has helped me greatly from getting HIV/ AIDS,” she says.
A "gamechanging" drug in the fight against HIV/AIDS reduces the risk of contracting it. Being a sex worker, Ms Kibuga, who meets several men, explains things wouldn’t have been as they are today without PrEP.
A sad story Ms Kibuga explains that challenges and misfortunes are part of the sex work life. She says some men tend to be violent or refuse to pay contrary to the agreement.
In November, 2018, Ms Kibuga met a man in Kihesa, Iringa Municipal Council. They exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet later. Ms Kibuga says that things went well until evening when they met at a guest house in Kichangani.
It is at this time when things changed, the man refused to use protection gear as per agreement, she refused, but the man forced himself into her. She was raped! “He forced me, he threatened to hurt me in case I made noise.
He then left without giving me my money,” she explains. She adds: “I was confused and I thought the man had infected me with HIV/AIDS because there were rumours that he was a victim.
So, I went for a test after three months, but to my surprise I was tested negative.” Ms Kibuga explains that for a long time, she has been engaging in unprotected sex with various men. “I can serve up to seven men a day. She says the charges base on time or if someone is interested in unprotected sex.
“I am very thankful to Sauti Project. We have been educated on the proper way to protect ourselves and our partners,” says Ms Kibuga. She adds that travelling from one region to another is part of her business.
She mentions the regions she visits in search of men as Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Morogoro and Songea.
Ms Kibuga explains that it has been easier for her to impart knowledge to her friends who are also sex workers.She says so far 10 girls and women have been informed and introduced to the service through her.
“We communicate through a WhatsApp group. We remind each other to take drugs and make a close follow-up to each other to ensure we take drugs,” she explains.
Her word to others Ms Kibuga advises both men and women to undergo HIV/ AIDS testing. She says it is better for someone to know his/her status so that he/she could take appropriate measures.
HIV/AIDS transmission cannot be eliminated if individuals do not know their HIV/ AIDS status. An HIV/AIDS test is the only way to determine if a person is living with the virus.
Once an individual knows that he/she is living with HIV/Aids, safer behaviour may be practised to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of transmission. Anyone, who practises risky behaviour is at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.
Risky behaviour includes having unprotected sex with multiple partners or with someone of unknown HIV status and sharing injection drug needles or equipment.
Anyone, who practises risky behaviour can contract the virus regardless of age, sex, race, income or sexual orientation. It is important that people at risk for HIV/AIDS get tested.