By PROF. KOFI AWUSABO-ASARE
With the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, a number of interventions have focused on commercial sex workers due to their observed role in transmission. Less discussed are the socio-cultural context in which they operate, the poor psychosocial environment in which they work and violence they experience. These conditions have short and long term health risks as well as implications for their welfare. Historically, commercial sex has gone through phases in the country. This paper explores issues associated with commercial sex work such as the risks they face, the social stigma and some of the coping mechanisms they adopt in a country where commercial sex is illegal.
Methods and Data
Data was collected among commercial sex workers in January 2008 before the African Cup of Nations football tournament. It involved 105 respondents in Sekondi-Takoradi, one of the four venues for the tournament. Respondents were recruited through accidental sampling and interviewed using a structured questionnaire.
The mean age of respondents was 32 years, and they reported about 5 clients per day. Major risks reported were fear of infection of HIV/AIDS, violence/abuse from clients and harassment from police. Over 90% reported condom use to counteract HIV/AIDS, but they were virtually defenceless against violence and harassments. None had registered with the National Health Insurance Scheme. In the hostile working environment, they had formed support groups but this did not seem to be enough.
This is a group with health needs, as well as challenges of violence from clients and police, abuse and harassment. Due partly to their work and associated stigma, they are unable to avail themselves of opportunities for health care and protection. Thus, they constitute a hidden urban social group who need to be targeted for support beyond HIV/AIDS/STI prevention.
Union for African Population Studies (UAPS)
Prof. Kofi Awusabo-Asare is a professor in population studies at the University of Cape Coast, where he has taught since 1980. His research interests are in adolescent reproductive health, social dimensions of HIV/AIDS infection, poverty studies, and issues of population, environment and health. His current research activities are in the adolescent reproductive health with the Guttmacher Institute of New York, population, urbanization and health along the coastal belt of the Central region of Ghana with Brown University and aspects of the feminization of poverty in Ghana with Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He has participated in the Agenda to Improve the Implementation of Population programmes and the utilization of research in policy dialogue about young people in Ghana. He has authored a number of publications based on his areas of research. He served as Head of the Department of Geography and Tourism (1998-2004), Head of the Department of Population and Health (2008-), and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (2000-2006) of the University of Cape Coast. He is currently a member of the International AIDS Society (IAS), the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), Population Association of America (PAA), Association of American Geographers (AAG), Ghana Geographical Association and Treasurer of the Union of African Population Studies (UAPS). He has served on a number of committees and commissions, including the IUSSP Committee of HIV/AIDS (1995-1999), member of the Nominations Committee of IUSSP (2005-2009), the President's Commission on the Review of Education in Ghana, a member of the Research and Monitoring Committee of the Ghana AIDS Commission and Co-chair of the World Health Organization's Panel on the Social Science Research on Health (1998-present). He holds a B. A. from the University of Cape Coast, M. A. (Demography) from the Australian National University and a Ph. D. from the University of Liverpool (UK)
Terminology used by commercial sex workers to describe themselves
PROF. NAANA JANE OPOKU-AGYEMANG