Sex workers want to be prioritised for vaccines

  • Sex work body Sisonke says it has workedconstructively with govt before
  • Argues prioritization of sex workers is critical because of the in-person nature of their work


Sex worker rights movement, Sisonke, has called on government to ensure that sex workers get priority during the national roll out of the coronavirus vaccination programme.
This follows a recent announcement by the government that the COVID-19 jab will be mandatory for everyone. Sisonke Programme Manager, Mandla Pule, says without vaccine priority for them, sex workers risk their lives as they continue working in person. “We call on the Minister of Health to ensure that universal access applies to all when it comes to the vaccine,” Pule told The Botswana Gazette. “Universal access means everybody should have access to health services. Our position is that if any category of people is due to receive the first jab, sex workers should be among that first group.”
Sisonke holds that doing so would bolster a reduction of harm approach to COVID-19 because the economic downturn of the pandemic has also affected the sex trade industry where people continue to work in person because they have been battered by circumstances around the pandemic.
According to Pule, continuing to work has become a matter of survival for sex workers in the midst of the pandemic that has ravaged them economically. They are to continue their in-person work often without adequate personal protective equipment, she noted. In a bid to cushion the sex workers, including those with illegal immigration status, Pule says Sisonke devised a strategy to connect them with information and health support resources.
“When the lockdowns first began at the beginning of the pandemic, we used the emergency mobile rapid response system in partnership with BONELA and Tebelopele where we were able to help undocumented sex workers get their ARV treatment so that they wouldn’t miss them due to movement restrictions,” she explained
“We are hoping to use the same model with the support of the government to ensure that if they are going to be vaccinating everyone, then they should be able to include key populations that embrace sex workers, including undocumented ones. That is what universal access is.”
“In the past, we worked with the government through the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAHPA) to develop messages for sex workers to access PREP, ARV and STI screening through the rapid response system. That is why we are hoping that the health ministry and COVID-19 Task Force will engage us so we help them reach these sex workers.”
President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana revealed in January that the administration of COVID-19 vaccine would start with front line workers once available. Botswana signed an agreement with a global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), giving the country an option to buy COVID-19 vaccines for 20 percent of its population.
The Director of Health Services in Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Malebogo Kebabonye, has since said the intention is to make the jab mandatory for all once the national roll out programme of the vaccine begins at a date yet to be confirmed. The WHO expects most African countries to begin vaccination programmes next month.