Antigua & Barbuda is being urged to decriminalise commercial sex work.
The move would “open the door” for those in the profession to access more services in the fight against HIV and AIDS, says research officer at the Directorate of Gender Affairs, Craig Rijkaard.
It’s for that reason as well that founder and executive director of Antigua & Barbuda HIV/AIDS Network Inc. (ABHAN) Eleanor Frederick has endorsed Rijkaard’s call but she stressed in a separate interview with OBSERVER Media that she does not support “legalisation”. They were both speaking to this newspaper during the International AIDS Conference.
According to Prostitutes’ Education Network, decriminalisation refers to the removal of all criminal laws in an effort to support occupational health and safety as well as workplace issues while with legalisation, criminal laws are used to regulate or control the sex industry by determining the legal conditions under which the sector can operate.
“I would say decriminalise to the point where individuals can when something happens, go to the police and say this is what took place, and I would like you to help me. It allows them to have recourse, which includes being able to get treatment, care and control,” Frederick said.
She and Rijkaard agree the at-risk group is being driven underground because of stigma, discrimination and in some cases their perception of how they are viewed.
While those in the industry are not coming forward as the authorities would like, they are accessing health care services, according to Rijkaard, who noted that the majority of the sex workers reached by his agency are non-nationals, since they dominate the sector.
One hundred and three new HIV cases were recorded between January 2010 and December 2011 while 216 children and adults were living with the disease up to the end of last year.
When asked how many of those with the disease in Antigua & Barbuda are sex workers, Rijkaard lamented that the statistics submitted to Gender Affairs do not categorise the patient as being from among the Most At Risk Populations (MARPs). Such information he said is needed as it would allow stakeholders to better formulate national programmes.
“Normally we speak about marginalised people because so many organisations are dong programmes for these but it may be that they are protecting themselves while the heterosexual couples are putting themselves at risk,” he reasoned.
The research officer said a national standardised way of collecting data is needed, since too often the Directorate Of Gender Affairs is forced to “run about” trying to getting extra information that is requested by international agencies to which it submits reports.
“As simple as it may seem at times, it is important because the organisations are asking for data which we overlooked,” he cautioned.
By Roseann Pile, of OBSERVER Media, from Washington DC
Frederick concurred that hardcore data is important and in fact she believes it’s one of the reasons her research was among the 3,500 selected from nearly 12,000 applications for presentation at the prestigious conference.
“A number of people from Antigua submitted abstracts because we did spend some time trying to get individuals to understand the importance of doing that, but I think the problem is that their work was not evidence-based enough.”
She introduced the international community to, “Bio-psychosocial approach to prevent transmission of HIV” – a peer buddy programme conducted by ABHAN in collaboration with the American University of Antigua.
Frederick said the results have been “rewarding” and fit right in with recently released international research that shows early diagnosis, along with subsequent continued care and treatment, reduces viral loads of the infected thus reducing the risk of transmission.
The health consultant disclosed that her recommendation to Cabinet for the country to move towards “case management” of those living with disease has been readily endorsed by Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and his ministers.
“But you would have to ask the Health Ministry what happened,” Frederick said since there had seemingly been no action since then.
[This news article was sourced from]