MHONDORO-Ngezi prostitutes are now able to protect themselves from violent clients after receiving self defensive sprays.

A total of 25 sex workers received sprays after completing training on HIV prevention last week from Southern Africa AIDS Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS).

However fears have been raised that sex workers might end up misusing these sprays to fleece people.

A health expert who was at the same event said it was better to educate the sex workers on other avenues such as the police whenever they are abused

"I don't think this is a good idea, these ladies of the night can be very cunning and cannot be trusted. They are likely to misuse this facility, taking the sprays as a weapon in attacking their clients while fleecing them of their money. There are several media reports in which these women have been found wanting after acting in cahoots with robbers to fleece clients," she said.

SAFAIDS director Lois Chingandu insists that their organisation was not promoting sex work but could not ignore the key group in HIV prevention adding that intimate partner violence amongst sex workers was high.

"In Zimbabwe self-reported instances of intimate partner violence are high with at least 4.3 percent of female sex workers having been raped in the last 12 months according to research

"We are not encouraging them to be in sex work yet this is a group that cannot be ignored in HIV prevention programmes. We have decided to give them these sprays after realising that they are exposed to violence yet they cannot report to the police.

"Most of them have approached as saying they are robbed and attacked by vicious clients after offering them services. They have noted how law enforcers are not friendly at them hence they find it difficult to report any cases.

"These sprays are for self defence and they cause temporal blindness which enables the victim to run to safety," she said

Gungandu said the training for sex workers was aimed at addressing various sexual and reproductive health rights challenges faced by sex workers in the region.

"Research has shown that there was high HIV prevalence among sex workers in the country and if they are ignored, they will infect their clients who are in marriage institutes.

"In Zimbabwe a study, (Cowan Fetal Estimation of the HIV care cascade for female sex workers in Zimbabwe baseline results of the SAPPH-Ire trial), reported that despite high rates of self-reported condom use with clients, HIV prevalence among the population was very high, at 564 per-cent Only 61 percent of those who were living with HIV reported knowing their status," added Chingandu.

She noted that stigma and discrimination was high on sex workers hence deterring them from accessing services that can protect them from HIV and other STIS.

"Because of the inadequate efforts to reach sex workers with essential HIV prevention information and services, HIV prevention among sex workers remains very low due.

"Where services are available, social and legal barriers deter sex workers from freely accessing them," said Chingandu.

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