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Can't Stop

Salima, a sex worker in Mozambique, at her home in Beira.

A skeleton of an old van decomposes in Salima's yard as her 5 children run around with others from the the Mascharinha neighborhood of Beira, Mozambique. The old tires, garbage and crumbling cement inside the walled compound serve as a playground. Inside her simple cement house, Salima watches TV with the kids. Their favorites are Brazilian novellas. This is how they pass most of their dayswatching TV and playing in the yard. Then at 5PM Salima heads into town where she looks for work. She hangs around bars with other women looking for men who want to pay for sex. 

Salima spends most of her days watching TV at home with her kids.

Aida turned to commercial sex work when she was 23. With three children and no husband she had no way to support her family and send her children to school. No one offered help. A friend suggested she try the street—adding that’s how many other girls in her neighborhood support themselves. 

Clients come from all over. The city is known for having girls so men flock there looking for sex. It's the beginning and end of the “corridor”— a busy trade route used by truckers hauling goods throughout Southern Africa so many of their clients are truck drivers from Malawi, Zimbabwe and other countries in the region. 

Once she has a customer they start negotiating the price and discuss condoms. The more time, the more money. She typically charges 100 Meticals ($1.30) for 5 minutes. She then takes her client to a nearby room that she rents for 20 Meticals. Most of the time she provides her own condoms supplied for free from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders in English. Sometimes the men bring their own but they've been known to poke holes in them so she doesn't trust them. Nowadays she only works 3 days a week from 5PM - 8PM. 

She used to work 6 days a week, but now she's not feeling as strong as she used to. Last December (2015) she started to feel sick. It started with a fever. She went to the hospital to be tested. At first she came up negative for everything. Eventually they diagnosed her positive for HIV.  She couldn't believe it at first and refused to take the medicine but after much counseling from an MSF counselor she finally accepted it and started to take her ARVs. "If it wasn't for MSF, I don't think my family would have done anything when I got sick." 

Before she got sick she could do everything and made more than enough to support her 5 children and put money in a savings account at the bank. Now, only working 3 days a week, the 400 Meticals a night or 1,200 Meticals ($15.54) a week isn't enough to support her and her children. 

"I want to stop but I can't. There is no one to help. If I could start a business or get a job or get some help, I would stop." 

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) corridor project helps provide healthcare for key populations most-at-risk for contracting HIV. Their team of peer educators, many of whom are former or current sex workers, go to the street to provide sex workers and their clients with condoms, counseling, testing, and healthcare education. In 2015, they provided testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections to 967 long-distance truck drivers and 548 sex workers, a particularly vulnerable group with an HIV prevalence of 55%.