By Charles Ingara
Judy (not her real name), one of the peer educators has been living with HIV/AIDS for 23 years now.
She has literally been to hell and back. Judy has worked as a house-girl, commercial sex-worker, slept without food and endured rape several times.
“Being positive is a hard job. It is a long journey and you have to take drugs for the rest of your life”, Judy says during an interview in Kilifi.
“That is why I am advising those who are still negative to be very careful and use condoms in the right way”, the peer educator said.
As a commercial sex worker, Judy says she and her colleagues are subjected to abuse by their clients who take advantage of their unfortunate situation.
She says besides being physically attacked, some of their wealthier clients forcibly have sex with them without using any protection.
“Some of us are beaten and some of the clients come and force us to have sex with them without using condoms. Others take you to their place and force you to have oral sex and you are not protected”, she says attributing it to the high incidences of HIV/AIDS in the county.
Judy decided to be a peer educator to help those who do not know how to protect themselves or get access to the information and services to avoid being infected.
But it has not been a bed of roses for Judy. She tabulates some of the challenges she faces as a peer educator with the aim of stemming the growing number of HIV positive cases as the attitude of commercial sex workers.
“Some of the sex workers we reach out to ignore us or call us names only to turn back to me when it’s too late”, the peer educator notes.
She said in a day she is able to get at least six new cases but getting them to come to the facility is a big challenge for her and she has to meet her target at the end of the month which should be at least eighty sex workers at her hotspot.
“The target of eighty sex workers is due to the large population of sex workers in Kilifi estimated at 3000 as attributed by one of the staff of International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH)”, Judy says.
The ICRH (Kenya) is a company that handles reproductive health related issues and was established in 2000 after the International Conference for Population Development (ICPD). The organization carries out intervention projects and research studies.
The Kilifi County Peer education program for female sex workers is one of their key projects in the country besides building a Centre for first-time young mothers.
“Some of the sex workers do not come to our facility as they do not want to be seen coming here”, the peer educator says adding that he mitigates this by getting the services to them through delivery of condoms to the hotspots.
Judy wants the government to step in and help in distributing more condoms to reduce the risk of getting infected with Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Fortunately, the prevalence of HIV in Kilifi is less than the national prevalence at 4.5 per cent according to a report by the National Aids Control Council (NACC).
The ICRHK is operating in four counties where they have created Drop In Centers (DIC) for the Female Sex Workers to get services such as contraceptives as well as getting knowledge on how to prevent them from getting infected with HIV/AIDS.
The program has peer educators who also double as female sex workers. The peer educators are trained on how to prevent themselves from getting infected and taken through the program.
The training which takes at least five days entails them being taught on the prevention methods and how to safeguard themselves from getting infected with HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
The peer educators play several roles such as identifying their peers at the hotspots which are bars and brothels. Peer educators can also accompany the client to the Drop In Centers.
Kilifi County has 46 hotspots and each peer educators should have at least 80 clients who come to the Drop In Centre to access the services.
Judy and her colleagues have been able to report on cases of violence against commercial sex workers since they were empowered on their rights. They work with the Police in case one of their own is violated by the client.
This program has been able to engage at least thirty peer educators and one hundred and seventy hotspots within Kilifi.