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AIDS Commission to categorise massage parlours, bars, lodges as HIV hotspots

by Editorial Team
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By Violet Nabatanzi

The Uganda AIDS Commission wants to categorise massage parlours, bars, and lodges as hotspots for the spread of HIV/AIDS. 

This is after they learnt that some of the massage parlours have been turned into sex hubs. 

Dr Shaban Mugerwa, the senior medical officer for care and support at the commission, said they will talk to policymakers to allow them to gazette massage parlours and bars as hotspots and as places where a lot of sex happens, adding that traditionally, such places were not targeted. 

He explained that all along, they thought that people go to such places for health reasons. 

Dr Shaban Mugerwa Senior Medical Officer-Care and Support at Uganda AIDS Commission speaking.

“We want to offer HIV preventive measures such as counselling and testing. We want to sustain positive behaviour. We are going to start having conversations with the managers of these places which we now know are hotspots,” Mugerwa said. 

Latest study 

A recent study conducted in 25 districts revealed that most socialising venues lack HIV prevention services. 

The study titled Social Venues and HIV Vulnerability highlighted that out of 447 surveyed venues, 243 reported not having any HIV prevention activities at venues in the year preceding the study. 

The study conducted by Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, as well as Ghent University, disclosed that the venues where people socialise, like bars, massage parlours and lodges play a significant role in the HIV transmission risk. 

The HIV prevention services included health education, having condoms on site, as well as on-site HIV testing.  

The districts included Rakai, Busia, Namayingo, Mayuge, Mukono, Luwero, Omoro, Agago, Kole, Apac, Moyo, Bukomansimbi, Sembabule, Lwengo, Kiruhura, Kiryandongo, Isingiro, Ntungamo, and Kotido. 

Only 85 socialising venues had reported having the services sometimes. The survey identified clusters of social venues in Uganda and their relationships with the HIV vulnerability of young venue workers. 

The researchers used the socialising venues to identify clusters with a high risk of HIV and AIDS. 

Susan Babirye, the lead researcher, explained that the socialising venues were dominated by female workers at 69% and that the majority of the people who worked at these venues were not married. 

Susan Babirye the Lead researcher from Makerere University School of Public Health speaking during the dissemination of study findings on Social venues and HIV vulnerability in Kyotera on Monday

The prevalence of HIV in the general population stands at 5.2%. According to the state of HIV/AIDS, Uganda has about 1.4m people living with HIV and about 1.2m on treatment. 

Presenting the study findings on Monday, Babirye said the study aimed at profiling socialising places in Uganda and the young people who work in such places. 

It also aimed at exploring the formal and informal institutions of socialising places and their influence on HIV risk and vulnerability among young people working in socialising places, and to determine how young people working in socializing places navigate workplace rules and procedures that expose them to HIV risk. 

Other researchers who participated in the study included Prof. Freddie Ssengooba and Prof Kristien Michelsen. 

According to researchers, during the study, four clusters were adopted, the first one represented 127 social venues, the second cluster represented 80 venues, and the third cluster had 113 venues, while the fourth one represented 160 non-alcoholic venues. 

The social venue workers in cluster one with a provision of on-site sex had a 15% increase in HIV vulnerability compared to those in alcohol venues without on-site sex. 

The study revealed that cluster one appeared to reinforce vulnerability to HIV and, therefore, should be targeted with HIV prevention interventions.  

The study called for a need to understand how social and structural factors shape HIV risk. The unwritten rules commonly known as social norms are increasingly recognised as determinants of HIV transmission. 

A qualitative study of young workers in venues of socialisation was conducted in two districts of Kyotera and Rakai in central Uganda. 

A total of 47 workers between the ages of 15 to 24 participated in this study through small group discussions and 10 in-depth interviews. 

It was observed that employment places were linked with social venues, and have long been described as permissive environments for excessive drinking, disruptive and aggressive behaviors as well as overt sexual behaviours, which are known risk factors for HIV. 

The study called for a need for venue licensing policies that regulate the rules at venues for instance licensing requirements on staff contracting, minimum wage, and operating hours, to reduce the HIV risk opportunities within the social venue environment and encourage the provision of HIV protective measures and venue-based capacity building programmes for empowering workers to navigate the existing risk exposures at the venues. 

The study recommended that there should be venue-based policies that protect the workers from sexual harassment including rape and condom dispensers at the venues. 

Dr Edward Muwanga, the Kyotera district health officer, said the prevalence of HIV in the district currently stands at 11.1 %. 

He said the district is providing the necessary services to the people of Kyotera adding that they have provided condoms to guest houses and lodges to reduce the transmission of HIV.

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