The Ministry of Health has made it a priority to educate and counsel “commercial sex workers” despite the government downplaying their existence.
The decision is revealed in a 98-page National HIV, AIDS, and STI Policy 2017-2022 report obtained by the Samoa Observer.
The commercial sex workers came under the prevention segment of the M.O.H. Policy report, which indicates that services are available to promote safer sex practices.
“Information Education Communication (I.E.C) and counseling services shall be made free of stigma and at no cost to commercial sex workers in order to enable them to adopt safer sexual practices,” the report reads.
Earlier this year, the Samoa Observer revealed that the number of female sex workers in Samoa was estimated at around 400. It was also revealed that most women are doing sex work for economic reasons. The age during which some of them begin sex work ranges from 13 to 21 years old.
The information was from the Pacific Multi-country Mapping and Behavioral Study 2016.
The same report was rubbished by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi who laughed at claims that poverty and hardship are to blame for the growing number of sex workers in Samoa.
Tuilaepa attacked the “newspaper” over its coverage of the issue describing the reporting as “rubbish.”
“If that is true then you shouldn’t find that in America, the wealthiest country in the world, yet there are a lot of women like that in America,” Tuilaepa said. “That’s where it’s wrong; you can’t control this type of behavior.”
Back to the M.O.H. Policy report, on commercial sex workers, it says that outreach is vital in this matter.
“Outreach to this population is critical as their chances of exposure to HIV and STI’s is high due to the fact that a lot of their clientele comes from international seafaring populations, sex work is illegal, and most are homeless lacking the income to access condoms and education.
“Additionally, their social needs should be addressed by IEC, counseling, and behavior change services in order to address the social determinants of their sexual health risks. “Due to the fact that sex work is illegal, all service providers must ensure confidentiality and make sure their use prevention services does not expose them to legal risk.
“The Pacific Multi-country Mapping and Behavioral Study 2016 found that there are an estimated 400 female sex workers in Samoa.
“Most women are doing sex work for economic reasons. Payment varies considerably from 50 to 200 tala.
“These women have a wide range of clients, including local and foreign men.58.3% had children and the majority had no other employment.
“The age at which women began sex work ranged from 13 to 21 years old.
“The mean numbers of partners in the last 12 months was 10, of whom nine were clients (most likely many regular clients).”
The M.O.H. Policy report further points out that “only 33% of the participants used a condom on the last occasion of vaginal intercourse with a client; the majority were inconsistent condom users with clients in the last 12 months.
“Condom use with casual non-paying partners was low; 50% used a condom on the last occasion.
“A minority of the women (18.2%) drank alcohol in the last week. Their HIV knowledge was moderate.
“None of the women had accessed a sexual health service in the last 12 months, although 60% had been given condoms in that period.
“None had been tested for HIV in the previous 12 months. “There is therefore a need for extensive condom programming and health education outreach to this group. “Interventions should also seek to provide female sex workers with housing, sanitation, and economic services to support their participation in prevention interventions.”
The M.O.H. Policy report also recommends that I.E.C. and behavior change programmes should be made available and accessible to promote safer sex practices including fidelity, abstinence, correct and consistent use of condoms according to well informed individual decision.
“Endorsement of family planning, S.T.I. prophylaxis, and other prevention methods shall be integral to all sites of service delivery.
“Sexual health strategies for healthy behavior and decision making should presumptively target all adults as having multiple partners.
“This allows counselors to deliver health information without having to address a client’s fidelity/infidelity directly,” according to the M.O.H. Policy report.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Toleafoa Dr. Take Naseri, said in their latest version of the HIV, AIDS, and STI Policy for 2017 to 2022.
“Samoa’s health sector is currently in the midst of several very important developments. This latest iteration of the HIV, AIDS, and STI Policy is a much welcomed and timely resource designed to guide multi-sectoral response to these diseases during this time of change.
“The efforts to prevent, treat, and improve care for these diseases have been greatly up-scaled since the implementation of the previous policy in 2011.
“This draft of the policy seeks to build upon previous achievements of the health sector, address ongoing challenges, and expand prevention to a higher level in order to eliminate HIV and STI transmissions.
“As STI’s increase globally, the efforts to prevent, treat, and improve population sexual health must intensify. “This version of the policy offers new approaches for addressing sexual health.” He said guidelines for services providers, stakeholders, and partners have been included to better coordinate the multi-sectoral response to HIV, AIDS, and STI’s.
“The Ministry’s commitment and strategies for reaching vulnerable populations are also detailed as part of ensuring a population based approach to sexual health prevention. “Finally this document represents the extensive partnership between the Ministry of Health, the health sector, all stakeholders, and all partners.”
Leausa also thanked all the people and organizations that contributed to the numerous consultations over the past two years to ensure this new policy would cover the evolving needs of the national response and the ever-changing context of HIV, AIDS, and STI’s.
“May this policy serve to strengthen our efforts to improve the health of our people, and reaffirm Samoa’s commitment in the global fight to stop HIV, AIDS, and STI’s,” he said.