The Cym Van Dyke clinic in Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa, whose target is providing healthcare for sex workers, finally commenced operations over the weekend to much acclaim. Sex workers in South Africa, along with the general public, will be offered drug counseling, cervical cancer screening, access to condoms and lubricants, legal services, as well as pregnancy, Tuberculosis, STI, and HIV testing at the clinic. The clinic is the first of its kind in South Africa.
A key vision of the clinic is to help 20 million people benefit from HIV treatment by 2020. Presently, the clinic provides sex workers with a safe haven in terms of sexual healthcare services and support. Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) – both leading advocates for sexual workers – partnered to establish the clinic which is named after popular South African transgender sex worker, Cym Van Dyke.
Providing sex workers with access to adequate healthcare is a delicate issue across Africa where the profession continues to be criminalised and stigmatised in society. Thus, initiatives such as the Cym Van Dyke clinic which cater to this class of marginalised individuals are welcome with open arms and gratitude.
The predisposition towards selling sex on the continent means those who partake in it are sidelined when it comes to receiving healthcare, even in cases – such as having contracted HIV/AIDS or STIs, or suffered sexual violence – where their lives, and the lives of those who patronise them, depend on it.
In Kenya, the cover of the night provides them with not just the opportunity to trade, but also to visit a charity-operated “HIV wellness centre” without the risk of discovery. Cameroonian sex workers on their part are improving their level of awareness and safety. Some have gone as far as courageously convincing their clients to equally get free HIV testing in order to reduce the spread of the deadly disease in the country.
Calls for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa by activists and health care practitioners have intensified in recent times, particularly in the face of horrific incidences involving sex workers and clients who take advantage of the fact that the profession remains illegal. Tales of rape and abuse which go unchecked and unpunished by law enforcement agencies are common in this field of work, despite the gravity of such crimes. Yet, sex workers continue to render their services amidst such high physical and health risks.
Hopefully, while the issue of decriminalising sex work in Africa to reduce cases of diseases, violence, and insecurity against the providers remains a topic of pertinent discourse, more healthcare centres such as the Cym Van Dyke clinic will be opened to cater to sex workers.
In addition to its current services, the Cym Van Dyke clinic also plans to engage the use of mobile clinics to reach those who are domiciled in the rural areas of South Africa.