Peer education for Kinshasa's sex workers
lives in a sprawling shanty town by the river in the Congolese capital,
Kinshasa. The poverty here is extreme. Piles of abandoned rubbish adorn the
patches of dirt where children play and chickens peck for morsels of food.
Sewage runs in rivulets between the rows of huts, and when it rains, the ground
turns to a sticky sea of mud.
It is here at this river bank that merchants arrive in dug-out canoes
bringing sand to sell in the capital. They moor up for several weeks to sell
their sand and purchase other goods to take back upstream.
Serving this itinerant community, the sex trade flourishes. With little other
hope for survival, Giselle has turned to prostitution to make ends meet. To
cover just the costs of food and her bed in a slum shack, she must see at least
6 clients a day. Not surprisingly, the chances of contracting HIV are extremely
Educating sex workers
In a country so devastated by war and misrule, where many young people have
no hope of employment and resort to desperate solutions to their problems, an
AIDS epidemic here is a serious risk.
This is why DFID is funding the country’s largest programme of HIV awareness,
educating high-risk groups such as sex workers about the risks of unprotected
sex and the importance of always using a condom.
Sophie is a ‘peer educator’ who gives her time voluntarily to teach groups of
sex workers about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Giselle and her
friends are taking a week-long course to learn how to use condoms, how to get
tested to find out their HIV status, and how to manage men’s resistance to
wearing protection. Sophie shows them photos of how HIV can and can’t be
transmitted, and performs role plays with the women.
Women trained as peer educators teach a different group of sex workers each
week. Since the project (run by
Services International – PSI) began in 2000, over 11,000 women have received
HIV awareness training.
Part of the course shows girls going to the local health centre to be tested
and treated for STDs. But when asked where the local health centre was, Giselle
explains that there isn’t one in the area. Occasionally a mobile clinic visits
the district, but infrequently.
While this project will have improved Giselle’s quality of life if it
prevents her from contracting HIV, a much more radical change is needed in the
country to provide a decent level of basic health service.
It is for this reason that DFID has supported DRC’s first democratic elections
since 1960 this year. A change in the political management of the country may at
last bring some realistic hope of a brighter future.
- The reconstruction needs of the DRC are huge. DFID has begun work with
the Transitional Government on longer term plans to rebuild DRC’s public
services and infrastructure. DFID is also working with other partners to
fund construction, health and education projects that will bring more
immediate benefits to communities in the DRC. DFID is helping the
Government, the UN and NGOs to tackle HIV/AIDS. Total available funding for DRC in 2006/7 is £62 million
- The total HIV/AIDS awareness programme reached 540,000 people in 2005.
In 2005 it is estimated that 13,000 cases of HIV were prevented because of
- DFID gave £700,000 to support PSI’s HIV/AIDS awareness programme in 2006
- The funding is used in three ways: direct training of high risk groups
such as sex workers, mass media campaigns such as billboard and TV
advertising and a mobile video unit, and national co-ordination of the
- 25 million Prudence condoms were sold or distributed across the country
in 2005. Prudence is the brand established by PSI, but it is now the generic
name for condoms in DRC.
23 February, 2007