In Maputo, HIV Prevention Is More than a Full-time Job
On a typical Saturday night in the heart of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, nightclubs throb, alcohol flows and Luis Mutombene is hard at work. Armed with a table, message board and a boxful of condoms, Luis takes to the streets to take on the challenge of reaching out to commercial sex workers and their clients to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
There are currently an estimated 1.5 million people living with HIV or AIDS in Mozambique, with the number increasing by as many as 500 new infections each day. Of these, the majority are women. Among them, the most vulnerable are those who, lacking other options, turn to sex work for income and thereby face a heightened risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Tonight, Luis stands on a busy corner of Rua de Bagamoyo, a nightlife hub. As Program Director of Get Jobs, a local nongovernmental organization and CAP grantee dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS through education and connecting sex workers with other gainful employment, Luis hits the city’s hotspots several nights a week. Together with his colleagues, he distributes condoms, talks to crowds, answers questions and draws people in to the Get Jobs Mobile Information Center: a small table of pamphlets and condoms alongside a message board. With a disarming smile and an extended hand, Luis talks to passersby on the way to meet friends or invites them to write a note on the board, which in turn attracts others to the table. Eventually, most leave with a handful of condoms and a pamphlet on safer sex.
Next, Luis heads to a local disco where sex workers and their potential clients often meet. The DJ has agreed to pause the music for a few moments each night while Luis talks to the crowd about the consequences of risky behaviors and how people can protect themselves and those they love. Along with his other outreach work, Luis uses these short presentations to open up a larger dialogue with sex workers and their clients, one which he hopes will ultimately lead them to stop engaging in dangerous behavior and make healthy choices.
Created initially to promote professional training and job placement, Get Jobs came to recognize that linking vulnerable populations, such as sex workers, to steady employment and alternative sources of income could address a number of pressing needs. After extensive interviews and research with the
Lucia is one woman who has done just that. A former sex worker on the streets of Maputo, Lucia now earns a living walking these same streets as an activist and educator for Get Jobs. Determined to improve her life and help others, Lucia spends her days studying to complete high school and her nights reaching out to old friends in the areas where she used to work. “I know [women] who want to stop doing sex work and do other things, and I know that this program can help them,” she stresses.
In less than two years as a CAP grantee, Get Jobs’
With CAP’s help, Get Jobs also has reached thousands of clients and potential clients to educate them about the risk of HIV/AIDS and encourage them to wear condoms. To support this effort, the NGO has handed out more than 40,000 condoms at 15 distribution points around the capitol. By focusing its efforts on both sex workers and clients, Get Jobs is fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS and connecting Mozambicans with life-saving options.