From sex worker to HIV counsellor

Jennifer, a former sex worker who has become an HIV counsellor in Burkina Faso is seated at a table.
Jennifer, a former sex worker, is now an HIV counsellor in Burkina Faso.(UNDP)

Jennifer was just 16 years old when poverty forced her out of her native Nigeria, leaving her family and many young sisters behind. She thought she was heading for a better future as a house maid in Europe, but instead, she ended up in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where she has been a sex worker for the past nine years.

“This is not something you want to do for a living. We all want to leave this profession,” she said.

Highlights

  • Through its HIV prevention activities, UNDP's PAMAC programme has reached 3 million people in the past five years.
  • The prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso dropped from 7% in 2002 to 1.6% in 2008.
  • Nearly 36,000 people living with HIV get regular support from PAMAC in the form of home visits, meals, and help starting their own businesses.

The youth volunteer organization ATUJB (Association Trait d’Union des Jeunes Burkinabé) in Ouagadougou provides voluntary testing and counseling, psychosocial support, and income generating advice to people living with HIV/AIDS. One of their main target groups is sex workers.

With ATUJB's support Jennifer was able to abandon her job as a sex worker and become a peer educator for young girls, teaching them how to avoid getting infected and the importance of using condoms. A microcredit loan from the association has also allowed her to open her own hair salon.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provides support to civil society organizations like ATUJB through its National Assistance Programme to Communities and Associations in HIV/AIDS (PAMAC) launched in 2003. 

Recognized the fundamental role that empowered community organizations play in combating HIV/AIDS, UNDP worked with the government of Burkina Faso to create PAMAC, which trains civil society workers to carry out HIV/AIDS prevention activities. Through its network of 182 community associations, PAMAC's services have reached 3 million people over the past five years.

The prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso has dropped from 7 percent in 2002 to 1.6% in 2008 - one of the lowest rates in West Africa - but the country still faces an epidemic affecting women between 15 and 24 years old.  PAMAC targets this vulnerable group, channeling technical and financial assistance to affected individuals and strengthening community level organizations in planning and implementation.

UNDP, together with the Government of Burkina Faso, will continue developing the capacity of civil society organizations to participate in creating, implementing and assessing national responses needed to tackle HIV/AIDS.