of Public Health, who led the study.
The Penal Code Act outlaws living on the earnings of prostitution in Uganda, penalizing it with seven years in prison.
Some local advocates say that decriminalizing sex work would be the best way to enable sex workers to access the services they need to prevent HIV infection and treat HIV and AIDS.
Juliet Katongole, director of Crested Crane Lighters, which advocates for the human rights of sex workers in Bwaise, a Kampala suburb, says there are many sex workers operating within Kampala.
“We work to improve the conditions and circumstances of their work and environment,” she says.
Katongole says that the criminalization of sex work hasn’t stopped the flourishing trade. Rather, it leaves sex workers more vulnerable to safety and health risks such as HIV and AIDS. Of the 70 registered members of Crested Crane Lighters, more than 30 are infected with HIV and AIDS.
The organization strives to help sex workers prevent HIV infection and transmission.
“We encourage them to always use condoms and go ahead to provide them with condoms,” Katongole says.
But Katongole says sex workers face challenges when negotiating safe sex with their multiple partners, who sometimes force them to have unprotected sex. She attributes this to a lack of institutional protection because of the criminalization of sex work.
“We supply condoms to the brothels around and the prostitutes themselves all the time,” she says. “But the brothel managers here in Bwaise report to us that they always find the unused condoms under the beds when they clean up.”
She ridicules men in Kampala who don’t think that they need to use condoms to prevent HIV transmission.
“They think HIV/AIDS shows on the skin,” she says.
She says society therefore shouldn’t blame sex workers for HIV transmission.
“How can you blame them for the infection, and yet the customer demanded unprotected sex when they offered condoms?” she asks.
She says that the government should decriminalize sex work in order to increase sex workers’ access to health care services to prevent and to treat HIV and AIDS.
“The government also needs to legalize the trade because it is not going to go away,” Katongole says.
But Dr. Stella Alamo Talisuna, the executive director of Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative, a community faith-based organization that provides support to people living with HIV and AIDS in urban areas, disagrees that legalizing sex work in Uganda would mitigate infections.
Instead, she promotes the rehabilitation of sex workers. Her organization is starting a new program that promotes both health and skills training among sex workers.
“If sex workers can find a viable alternative means of income, they will eventually get off the streets,” Talisuna says.
But Katongole says that rehabilitation is unrealistic.
“The issue of rehabilitation is very expensive and complicated,” she says.
She says it’s one’s choice to leave sex work, but no members of her organization have abandoned it so far.