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World Cup Raises Sexual Health Concerns in South Africa

| by MyMADRE

The large influx of visitors from all around the globe attending this year’s FIFA World Cup has raised the concerns of many health and human rights groups within South Africa and abroad. It is predicted that the increase of visitors will cause a dramatic surge in the demand for sex work. While there exists no accurate figures for sex workers in South Africa, prior to the World Cup tournament, Eric Harper of Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force, believes there are 3,000 in Cape Town alone.

However, as fans populate South Africa the demand for sex work is projected to increase. This surge will place people engaging in sex work, already made vulnerable by discrimination, at greater risk of transmitting or being exposed to HIV. HIV/AIDS remains a global pandemic with high transmission and infection rates. The UN estimates that in South Africa 5.7 million people are HIV positive, and a  2005 University of Michigan study found that 46 percent of female sex workers in Johannesburg were HIV positive.  

In response to projected transmission rates for the World Cup games, advocacy and health groups have mobilized. The South African National Aids Council along with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force plan on widespread awareness campaigns promoting safe sex and HIV prevention. Coasters with HIV prevention information will be placed in bars where people congregate to watch the games, and condoms and lubricant decorated with soccer logos will be distributed as broadly as possible.

However, health and advocacy groups have claimed FIFA has placed limitations on their abilities to distribute aid. The HIV Clinicians Society and several other groups said in a statement: "To date FIFA has not permitted any civil society organisation to distribute HIV or health related information."

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The ability of sex workers to protect themselves, to access health services and education, and to advocate for their rights is significantly hampered by their legal status.  Sex work remains illegal in South Africa under the Sexual Offences Act of 1957. The debate over HIV and health related information dissemination during the World Cup has provided heightened exposure to human rights campaigns calling for the decriminalization of prostitution. Currently, efforts to momentarily suspend the illegality of sex work during the World Cup with a goal of permanent decriminalization have gone unanswered or outright denied by the South African government.