Monday, June 18, 2018

Jenifer’s story: from a life of prostitution to hope


Jenifer Manyanga, a resident of Sembaki village in Moshi District, Kilimanjaro Region was gang raped at the age of 18 by six giant men.

Now at 24 , she recounts her story to Your Health in an exclusive interview.

She recalls her controversial life with relatives in Manyara Region and how she ended up in a troubled life, soon after she had completed her ordinary level education at Changalika Secondary School in Pwani Region in 2012.

“When I completed secondary school, I moved to Manyara to stay with my brother. My brother was married. His wife didn’t like me,’’ she says.

Didn’t pass exams

Results for the National Form Four Examinations were released and Jenifer didn’t pass. Her dreams to join advanced level studies were suddenly blacked out.

“My dream was to continue with studies so I was keen on re-taking the exams as a repeater. But, I did not have the fees,” she says.

Fateful day

Jenifer doesn’t remember the exact day when she was raped but what she can recall is that the incident happened at night.

Thereafter, she says, “I started experiencing vaginal discharge and bleeding from the rectum. I told my brother and we reported the incident to police. Then, I was rushed to the hospital for diagnosis.”

Doctors revealed to her that she was HIV negative and she was asked to report back at the hospital after three months for the second test.

“It is hard to forget what happened. I was depressed and I lost hope. I had no interest to continue with school,” recalls Jenifer.

Did police investigate the incident?

Jennifer says until today, police have not been able to produce a report of the perpetrators.

The report aside. “Because I wasn’t in good terms with my brother’s wife, I had to leave my brother’s house. I moved to my sister’s place in another district-Ushetu.”

Pushed into child prostitution

At a young age, Jenifer felt so desperate and didn’t have any income to sustain her life. She couldn’t resist the temptation to become a sex worker.

“We were just two of us in the house. I didn’t have a job to earn income. I therefore decided to look for the job. Life was difficult, that’s when I started to engage in sex work,” says Jenifer.

“I ended up joining a sex workers’ group ‘Live Band’ in Kahama urban. I was involved with sex work for two years from 2014 to 2016.”

On a bad day, she recalls, “I could earn up to 70,000 but on a good day, it could go up to Sh 200,000.” My clients were businessmen and I could serve up to 10 men on a day.”

“Sex work was the only option I had.”

Not everyone is as safe as Jenifer

Though Jenifer was tested HIV negative, many Tanzanians still find themselves in circumstances that expose them to new HIV infections—sex workers are among the high risk groups.

Earlier last month, the Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu described new HIV infections as ‘a huge threat’ to the country’s social and economic development.

She blamed the new infections on poverty, low literacy levels among parents, peer pressure and harmful cultural practices that expose children to sex early in life.

She reaffirmed her commitment to fighting the infections through implementing strategic plan IV which aims to combat new HIV transmissions, particularly among the youth.

But, the government can’t do it all alone. Through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has set out plans to collaborate with the government.

And, according to the minister, the government is banking on self-testing programmes to achieve the plans.

“We will introduce HIV self-testing. We aim to enable people use devices that will be available at public health facilities free of charge to motivate people to know their HIV status,” she said.

Her story continues, with renewed hope

In 2016, Jennifer found her way into HIV outreach programmes.

She joined ‘Sauti Project,” implemented by an international, non-profit health organisation affiliated with The Johns Hopkins University—Jhpiego.

The fire that still burnt inside Jenifer as to what happened to her in the past could only be put off by helping other girls who are exposed to abuse and violence.

“Many girls face abuse and violence. Most of them were abandoned by their families due to poverty,” says Jhpiego’s Director of Sauti Project, Mr Albert Komba.

“I have talked to some young women who left their families due to lack of financial support. They said they ended up in prostitution in order to survive and support themselves and their children,” he said.

He also said there had been a large increase in the number of children forced into prostitution.

“Most girls are aged 14 to 22 years, but I have come across some as young as nine.”

Mr Komba says the government and stakeholders have to now double efforts to address the root cause of child prostitution and put in place tougher legislations.

“Through Sauti Programme, at least 32, 410 people were linked and enrolled into care and treatment clinics. We also reached over 63, 000 women of reproductive age between 15 to 49 years,” he said.

Through the outreach programme, at least $13, 269 equal to over Sh29 million loans were disbursed as loans to groups of vulnerable women.

“Since I joined the programme, my life has changed completely. I can now feed and clothe myself. I quit sex work. I applied for a loan and opened a small business,” says Jennifer who is one of the beneficiaries of the project.

According to Mr Komba, over 17, 000 sex workers were reached with periodic presumptive treatment of sexually transmitted infections, an important service to minimize risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV to their partners.

“When our initiative, ‘Diagnose One, Link One’ was implemented, majority of the people who were tested were HIV positive,” says Mr Komba. For her part, Sauti Program Officer Adolescent Girls and Young Women Sexual Reproductive Health, Ms Agnes Junga says individuals who were HIV positive or recent survivors of gender-based violence have received peer-escorted referrals to treatment services.

She says now the effort is being directed in conducting community dialogues to address stigma, discrimination and gender-inequitable social-norms.

The HIV prevalence in the general population (Adults aged 15-49) in Tanzania has in the last decade (2003-2012) declined from 7.0 per cent to 5.1 per cent, the recent reports indicate.

However, in hotspots across the country and key and vulnerable populations such as adolescent girls and young women, female sex workers and their partners still face a high risk.

They are at risk of acquiring new HIV infection by 25 per cent and men who have sex with men by 26 per cent, drugs addicts by 36 per cent whereas, the HIV incidence remains unacceptably high.

In Tanzania HIV/AIDS prevalence remains ‘a huge threat’, according to recent 2016-2017 (THIS). HIV prevalence rate in Tanzania has declined from 5.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent indicated in research 2011-2012.

US government steps in

The US government currently provides more than 80 percent of all finding for HIV programmes in Tanzania in which through PEPFAR, the USG has spent about Sh9 trillion.

Between 1990 and 2003, the year PEPFAR began, at least 871, 000 Tanzanians died of AIDS related causes.