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This also means that the vast majority of HIV-positive sex workers are now eligible for antiretrovirals.

But stigma and other structural barriers to regular clinical access will be much more difficult to tackle.

Each was asked to provide a blood sample for HIV and syphilis testing, and to answer a 45-minute questionnaire which included questions on: What the statistics show is that currently very few female sex workers are benefiting from antiretroviral programmes.

And it will be impossible to control the epidemic without dramatically increasing uptake among them.

Sex workers are one of several highly vulnerable key populations that are often neglected in the fight against HIV due to social stigma and frequent criminalisation.

In South Africa, as in most countries in the world, sex work remains criminalised.

The high prevalence shows that HIV epidemic among South African female sex workers is as bad or worse than its neighbours.

Around 70% of Swazi female sex workers and 25% of female sex workers in Mozambique are living with HIV.

Although the vast majority (over 75%) of female sex workers reported using condoms with their last client, condom use with non-paying partners like husbands or boyfriends is much lower. Failing to expand treatment or implement pre-exposure prophylaxis programmes means startling statistics such as those among female sex workers in South Africa will be seen for years to come.

South Africa is now following the World Health Organisation’s recommendations for early treatment, which translates into anyone with a CD4 count of less than 500 being eligible for treatment.

This means that instead of treating people when they are very sick, treatment may now begin while they are healthy in order to keep them healthy.

Now, through an innovative program in Cape Town, South Africa, sex workers confront this situation with peer support and legal advice.

Supervised by an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre—an organization dedicated to equality for women—four former and current sex workers work as paralegals.

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