The lead author of the Pacific Multicountry Mapping and Behavioural Study report, Professor Heather Worth 0f Global Health, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, has called on the Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr Leao Talalelei Tuitama and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to read the report.
The report Professor Worth is referring to is the Multi-country Mapping and Behavioural study 2016, which was quoted by the Ministry of Health in their sixth annual report to UNAIDS.
The Samoa Observer’s first article from the report “Economic reasons forces 400 women to sex work,” was published on 5 May, 2017.
Following that report, the Samoa Observer reached out to Prime Minister Tuilaepa for a comment.
He laughed at claims that poverty and hardship are to blame for the growing number of sex workers in Samoa.
He also attacked the “newspaper” over its coverage of the issue describing the reporting as “rubbish.”
A week later, the Minister of Health, Tuitama in response to queries stated, “If P.M. says it's rubbish, it must be rubbish,” and this was published on 9 May, 2017.
Yesterday Professor Worth wrote this response to the news articles:
As the lead author of the report on HIV and STI risk and vulnerability among key populations in Samoa I would respectfully like to respond to the Honourable Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr Leao Talalelei Tuitama and the Honourable Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.
We urge the Prime Minister and the Minster of Health to read both the cross-Pacific summary of the findings and the Samoa report which are available online:
Samoa was part of a nine-country study across the Pacific. The study was undertaken to estimate population sizes of key groups vulnerable to HIV: – fa’afafine, men who have sex with men, sex workers and seafarers; to map levels of vulnerability to HIV and STIs; and to provide evidence of barriers to prevention in order to improve effectiveness of HIV prevention efforts.
We had considerable support for the study which was funded by the Global Fund for HIV, TB and Malaria, through UNDP and UNICEF. The study had ethical approval from the Samoan Ministry of Health and the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The researchers have a long history of sex worker research in the Pacific.
The data collected in Samoa found that there was a small group of women selling sex. The number of sex workers (400) was estimated at stakeholder meetings and with interviews with those involved.
Two-thirds of the women selling sex were not employed, and sex workers themselves told us that they undertook sex work for economic reasons. The most worrying issues out of the study were that only half of the women used condoms the last time they had sex with a client, and none of them had used a sexual health service or been tested for HIV in the last 12 months In-depth interviews show that the money they receive from sex work helps pay the bills.
Professor, Global Health
School of Public Health and Community Medicine
University of New South Wales