DR Congo: Sex workers call for inclusion in Ebola responses

The Congolese Alliance for Human Rights Sex Work Project ACODHU-TS has called for specific interventions and sensitisation of the sex worker community on Ebola in areas affected and transboundary cities.

This is after a sex worker died from the severe, often fatal virus affecting humans and other primates. Last week, a 24-year-old female sex worker from the city of Beni in North Kivu died in Mwenga from Ebola, after having travelled over 1200Km through the cities of Goma and Bukavu, through virus detection doors.

Ebola outbreak has been declared in Eastern DR Congo and classified as a public health emergency of international concern (USPPI. A program for the national response has been set up jointly with the Congolese Government. Despite all these strategies to fight against Ebola, there are reported cases of outbreak in the cities of Goma and Bukavu.

Due to immigration, the vulnerability, the stigmatisation, sex workers are at a high risk of being infected. Unfortunately, there is no specific program to prevent or treat the virus among Congolese and immigrant sex workers working in Eastern DR Congo.

Restrictions are also noted in the borders for sex worker women’s movements (Rwanda-DR Congo) (Burundi-DR Congo).

The Sex workers-led organisations have expressed concerns that there is no sensitisation campaign specific to sex workers about the transmission of the Ebola virus.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines state that any survivor of Ebola and their sexual partners should benefit from advice on safer sex practice, and should test their sperm three months after the onset of the disease.

The ACODHU-TS network wants therefore a global action in the region be set up through the orgaisation’s members. They have called for the involvement of the leaders of sex workers in the joint strategy put in place by WHO and government and a specific response committee for sex workers be set up.

The border towns Bukavu in South Kivu and Goma in North Kivu are considered as sex work hubs in Eastern DR Congo, with an estimated density of 369,514 inhabitants, the community of female sex workers is noticeable. The national female sex worker-led organisation, UMANDE, notes that there more than 3809 migrant sex workers working in Bukavu from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Additionally, it is estimated that there are more than 10,289 Congolese women working as sex workers.

Fact about the virus

  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals (such as fruit bats, porcupines and non-human primates) and then spreads in the human population through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.
  • The average case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.

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