Shocking HIV rate among Swazi sex workers

Over 70 percent are infected according to new survey

Richard Lee's picture


Strategic communications for WWF

June 1st, 2012

A groundbreaking survey in Swaziland has produced a truly shocking statistic – HIV prevalence among sex workers stands at 70.3 percent.

Around the world, female sex workers are at greater risk of HIV infection than the general population but until the Swaziland HIV Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Study and Qualitative Study among Most At-Risk Populations, no one knew how serious the situation was in Swaziland. Now they do.

Conducted by Population Service International in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University in the United States, the study shows that HIV prevalence among sex workers increased with age. However, even the youngest group of sex workers had an HIV prevalence rate of 44 percent – far higher than the general population.

Despite the high HIV prevalence among sex workers, some of their clients continue to insist on having sex without a condom. Out of the 325 sex workers who participated in the study, less than a quarter said that they had always used condoms in the past month.

In particular, condoms were used less often with regular clients and non-commercial partners.

Meanwhile, the study also surveyed men who have sex with men (MSM) in Swaziland and found that half of them use condoms each time they have sex – and that the HIV prevalence rate among MSM is relatively low at 17.7 percent, substantially less than the general population.

While few men are brave enough to openly disclose their sexuality, 325 MSM participated in the research –70 percent of whom were younger than 25. The study found that 54 percent of MSM felt rejected by friends due to their sexuality, while 55.3 percent of them were afraid to seek health care for the same reason.

Just like sex workers, HIV prevalence increased with age. MSM were also more likely to be HIV infected if they had syphilis, had been in prison, or reported excessive alcohol use. 


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