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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SOUTHERN AFRICA: Farm workers neglected in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts | Care Treatment, Prevention Research | Focus
Friday 24 February 2006
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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Farm workers neglected in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Farm workers are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection

JOHANNESBURG, 11 August (PLUSNEWS) - Constantly moving, keeping an ear open for fresh opportunities, migrant farmworkers in Southern Africa are often a forgotten population, for whom little is done to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in an already high-risk environment.

A study conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the region along the border between South Africa and Mozambique brings into sharp focus how living and working on farms makes workers more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

In South Africa's Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, covered in the survey, foreign farm workers are predominantly male migrant labourers from Mozambique who stay on farms for short periods and consequently have a high level of mobility.

"Their insecure legal status is a barrier to access to public services, for fear of being deported. In addition, cross-border migrants have to cope with separation from their family units ... mental stress associated with the dangers and uncertainty of migration, and a basic need for acceptance and recreation, which may lead them to engage in unsafe sexual experimentation," the report observed.

Researchers noted that high-risk sexual behaviour between men and women working on farms was common, and the "incidence of concurrent sexual relationships was unexpectedly high".

IOM HIV/AIDS Programme Officer Barbara Rijks attributed this to the seasonal nature of the work: during the harvest season, for example, large numbers of temporary workers arrived, leading to increased levels of sexual networking among farmworkers.

These relationships, particularly between permanently employed male and temporary female workers, usually involved transactional sex.

"As the temporary women begin to arrive at the start of the picking season, "there is overcrowding in the room ... and the permanent men come scouting, choosing the beautiful ones. [They] take them and stay with them in their own houses; some may take two or three," the report commented.

The young women were "not passive in this process", as they specifically targeted men who had well-paying jobs on the farm. In exchange for sex they were guaranteed food, money and "nice things".

With a "striking lack of ... HIV/AIDS interventions directed specifically at farmworkers and migrants", there was poor knowledge of HIV/AIDS, allowing many myths about the disease to go unchallenged, the report found.

Rijks told PlusNews: "There is no regular access to information programmes where they work, so people start talking amongst each other, fuelling these misconceptions."

Among other fictions about the disease was the widespread belief that AIDS could be cured and was not deadly, possibly lulling many into a false sense of security, the report warned.

A common misconception among survey participants was that condoms carried HIV infection and therefore should not be used. Although condoms were rarely available at workers' compounds, almost 93 percent of them knew that condoms could be obtained at clinics and public hospitals.

Nevertheless, Rijks noted that condom use remained low: 55 percent of the men interviewed reported using a condom "sometimes", and only 4 percent of men and women said they "always" used one.

Inevitably, women farmworkers were especially vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, as they had lower levels of knowledge about the disease and higher levels of unsafe sexual behaviour.

IOM said the socioeconomic conditions that lead to farmworkers' vulnerability were often overlooked. "When one's daily life is a struggle in so many respects, HIV/AIDS appears as a distant threat - only one of many faced daily by workers," the researchers remarked.

The study called for improved working and living conditions on farms, as well as increased awareness among workers and owners.

"It's really important to have farmers on board and not have them seen as the bad ones," said Rijks. "They need to see the relevance of improving the health of their workers."

To access the report: www.iom.org.za pdf Format


Armed forces to tackle impact of HIV/AIDS,  13/Feb/06
AIDS-prevention policies promote stigma - expert,  28/Oct/05
HIV/AIDS eroding region's development, says UN report,  7/Sep/05
HIV/AIDS, hunger a security threat, WFP warns,  1/Jul/05
New approach to aid required, says report,  20/Jun/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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