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Health Workers in South Sudan Help Counter the Risks of Violence and HIV Infection for Female Sex Workers

A health worker counsels a client at a Hospital in South Sudan. Photo by Trevor Snapp for IntraHealth International.

When Poni was attacked by one of her clients, program staff sprang into action.

Poni’s* job as a female sex worker in Juba, South Sudan, is often dangerous. Gender-based violence is common and Poni, along with over 4,000 other female sex workers in Juba, sometimes experiences life-threatening situations while working.

Because of ongoing conflict and insecurity, violence against women and girls in South Sudan is widespread. Sex workers are particularly at risk of violence due to the stigma that surrounds the profession. They also often face other risks, such as HIV infection. HIV prevalence among female sex workers in South Sudan is 11.8%, higher than the global rate of infection among women and girls.  

Because of this,

access to health services is crucial for sex workers.

Recently, Poni was attacked by one of her clients. She had a fractured arm and knew she needed help, so she turned to a peer supervisor and crisis response focal person, Wasuk,* who connected her to the psychological and emotional support she needed.

Wasuk works for IntraHealth International’s Advanced HIV and AIDS Epidemic Control Activity, which helps mitigate gender-based violence and provides HIV prevention, care, and treatment services for female sex workers in Juba, Nimule, Yambio, Wau, Rumbek, and Bor.

The activity provides services for over 10,500 female sex workers.

He helped Poni speak to relevant authorities and referred her for medical attention at the Juba Teaching Hospital. He also accompanied her to a different hospital for follow-up, monitored the progress of her fractured arm, and advised Poni on how to deal with such clients in future.

The activity provides services for over 10,500 female sex workers. This includes HIV testing, condom promotion, lubricant distribution, health education, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, counseling, linking clients to care and treatment, and family planning services.

I’m thankful IntraHealth has brought these HIV and gender-based violence services closer to us.

“I’m very grateful for IntraHealth’s enormous support to me and all the other female sex workers,” Poni says. “We encounter customers who pose threats to our lives and business. I’m thankful IntraHealth has brought these HIV and gender-based violence services closer to us.”

Poni, who is HIV-positive and has been on antiretroviral treatment since 2020, receives medication from an IntraHealth-supported facility in Juba and is responding well to treatment. She represents the 1,249 female sex workers who are now on antiretroviral treatment thanks to this activity. Activity staff work with peer leaders in their communities to integrate comprehensive HIV services by coordinating with health facilities at the project sites.

Living in a country where HIV and survivors of gender-based violence are often stigmatized, female sex workers like Poni now have these services delivered door-to-door.

“Just like me, other female sex workers won’t have to spend money on transportation to access HIV services at the facilities as the community HIV services, additional to condoms and lubricants are brought to our doorsteps,” Poni says. “The female and male condoms, when used correctly, will prevent us from contracting or spreading HIV.”


*Name changed to protect anonymity.

The Advanced HIV and AIDS Epidemic Control Activity is funded by the US Agency for International Development.