It is at around 8.30 am and Janet Akinyi (not real name) is seen standing outside lodging. Skimpily dressed and standing in a parking lot at the notorious Kondele area by pass in Kisumu town, Akinyi is among a group of twilight girls. Some, barely in their teenage years, are seen seductively loitering as they jostle for “clients”.
Though initially known for small scale businesses of mechanic work, brick selling, lorry transport among many others, Kondele suburb has experienced a transformation with key investors jostling for space. The image of the area has been boosted with the ongoing construction of the Northern bypass. But even as these developments take shape, Kondele has been one of the red-light districts of Kisumu town.
Known for all the wrong reasons, the sex dens are now proving to be a possible death bed for many patrons. This is as far as going by the revelation of Akinyi who is one of the commercial sex workers at one of the Kondele’s leading brothel.
“My husband passed on last year leaving me with five children, thus why I resorted to this business,” she says. Akinyi continues to say that she quit her marriage after realizing that the husband was infected with HIV/AIDS.
“I had to leave him because I was disappointed, he later passed on few weeks after, this left me with a burden of providing food and school fees for my five children,” she recounts.
After being thrown out by her in-laws, Akinyi says she ventured into a small business which failed soon after takeoff. “This discouraged me since the pressure was too much to fend for my children,” she says.
She then left her rural home for the town where she worked in a hotel. Later, she however chose to look for an alternative which could have sustained her since securing stable employment proved futile.
“It is not pleasing at all, considering that I grew up a Christian family. I felt awful but I had to continue” she adds. From this experience, Akinyi is a possible HIV/AIDS carrier.
“On a regular night, I get two to three clients who pay me in the range of shs. 200 to 2000”, she says.
I inquire from Akinyi whether she uses protection during her course of hustle.
“Yes, we are told to use but the danger comes when the client is not willing to use it. We even explain to them the importance of the protection but some of them defy us,” she narrates.
However, she says they get support from non-governmental organization involved in HIV/AIDS awareness that has provided interventions such as supply of condoms and provision of voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) services.
Akinyi confirms that most of the ladies in the business do not go for the testing for fear of testing positive. Though some NGOs are out to help this vulnerable group, they face a challenge.
“Finding the clients to the sex workers has been the greatest challenge in offering health education and services to attain HIV/AIDS conscious relationships,” Stephen Ojowi- key populations’ project coordinator for Impact Research, reveals.
Impact Research is one of the non-governmental organizations involved in sensitization of HIV/Aids in the area.
Ojowi admits that increased cases of illicit sex activities have been brought majorly by poverty. He pointed out 90% of the commercial female sex workers have gone into the street business after lack of chances to raise money for daily life.
“Most of those ladies you see are economically handicapped and it’s only through economic empowerment that the numbers will reduce”, he said.
He also added that the high risk behavior of not using condoms was encouraged by low bargaining power of the ladies.
“Some of the clients would offer hefty perks not to use condoms and which they ladies find irresistible, their HIV status not withstanding” he said. ‘This has led to increased cases of HIV/AIDS type 2 infections” he added.
“We advice the CSWs to embrace the use of protection during intercourse though money overpowers our counsel,” he regrets.
“We are empowering the ladies to look out for alternative options of income generation to fight the rising new numbers’’, he said.
“I go with anybody regardless of his age, class, or dressing provided there is money,” admits Akinyi.
“I once accompanied a guy to his house after he promised to pay me shs.700 for night, being a naïve lady at the time, I accepted and went with him. On reaching his house, the guy turned against me and starting strangling me” she added. Surprisingly, the man was well known to her.
“Police brutality is another nightmare we face as we brave the night cold,” she says. Akinyi however says that if they can be helped acquire loans, most of the ladies will be able to quit the night business.
Female sex workers (FSW), according to Kenya Aids Indicator Survey 2012 have the highest HIV prevalence rate than any other group in Kenya. In the Nyanza region, prevalence rate stand at 15.1% against the national rate of 5.6%, according to the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS), 2012, with Homabay, Kisumu and Siaya recording the highest incidences.
On September 10, 2013 the Kenya National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) disseminated preliminary results of the Kenya Aids Indicator survey that indicated reduction in adult HIVprevalence from 7.2 percent in 2007 to 5.6 percent in 2012.
However, gains made seem to be getting eroded fast, with the most risky groups, including commercial sex workers, long distance truck drivers and fishermen becoming more vulnerable.
By Odhiambo Otieno | KNA