According to the U.N. AIDS program (UNAIDS), Cameroon has the second highest HIV rate in West and Central Africa, after Nigeria. While an average of one in 25 people across the country are living with HIV, more than a third of sex workers are infected, meaning they hold the key to halting the spread of the virus which kills atleast 30,000 Cameroonians a year, experts say. More than 5,000 clients of sex workers have been tested for HIV so far this year.
During six years of selling sex on the streets and in brothels across Cameroon’s capital Yaounde, Rose has been abused, attacked and forced to have unprotected sex by her clients.“There are some ferocious beasts amongst them,” said the sex worker, a tall woman in her late thirties, wearing a short black dress and sporting a neck-length wig of straight dark hair. “Some men get violent… sometimes they attack you.“We deal with it as Cameroonian women do.We are strong,” Rose told the Thomson Reuters Foundation outside a brothel in Emombo, an area known for high rates of crime and prostitution.
Despite the frequent insults, threats and attacks, sex workers such as Rose are helping to save the lives of their clients from the Central African nation’s biggest killer – HIV.Sex workers are persuading these men to take free HIV tests in mobile clinics, set up inside or nearby brothels and run by teams of doctors, nurses, social workers and lab technicians, in a drive to tackle the prevalence of the virus which causes AIDS.