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Saturday 18 March 2006
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AFRICA: Fishing industry - the one that got away in AIDS prevention

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


"Fish for sex" a fact of life in the industry

LUSAKA, 22 February (PLUSNEWS) - The fishing industry in Africa faces a growing threat of HIV/AIDS, but interventions to address the epidemic are still lagging behind.

Stephen Hall, director of the World Fish Centre, warned this week at a workshop in Zambia on 'HIV/AIDS in the Fishery Sector in Africa' that if the sector was to deliver any economic benefits for African countries, HIV/AIDS had to be addressed.

"The situation now is that both the resource and the people who supply it are under threat ... the situation is getting worse," he added.

It has been generally recognised that the high mobility and risky lifestyle of fishermen has contributed to high HIV prevalence rates.

According to University of East Anglia's Dr Janet Seeley, boat crews typically comprise young men aged between 15 and 35 working in an environment that values risk-taking. Away from home for long periods of time, with limited family or authority figures, there was more freedom to engage in risky sexual behaviour.

Nevertheless, Seeley warned that not all fisher folk engaged in unsafe behaviour. She also cautioned against stereotyping women in the industry, as they were "not just sexual partners" but played an important role in their own right in the fishing sector.

Transactional sex, however, was a reality and in places where women competed for the fish catch – for small-scale processing and local trade - "fish for sex" was not uncommon, a World Fish Centre policy brief released at the workshop, noted.

But people working in the industry continue to be marginalised, with poor access to health and HIV/AIDS services.

In Malawi, where the fishing sector contributes 4 percent to the country's GDP, and employs over 300,000 people, the government is slowly trying to reel in the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"The fishing community has been excluded, there are lots of AIDS NGOs in [Malawi] but still very little is happening in this sector," Chikondi Pasani, HIV/AIDS programme coordinator in Malawi's fisheries department, told PlusNews

Pasani admitted that the country's fishing industry was beginning to feel the impact of HIV/AIDS.

The epidemic was forcing the fisheries sector to adopt unsustainable fishing techniques, which were effective in the short-term but were ultimately more destructive, Seeley warned.

There was a reported increase of fishing in shallow waters as people became too weak to fish in deep-water. Fish breed in shallow areas. If these are heavily targeted, this had considerable implications for the long-term state of the fish stock, she warned.


Recent AFRICA Reports
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 275, 17 March 2006,  17/Mar/06
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 274, 10 March 2006,  10/Mar/06
Activists lament AIDS and rights abuses on International Women's Day,  8/Mar/06
Decriminalisation of sex-work sought as anti-AIDS mechanism,  3/Mar/06
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 273, 3 March 2006,  3/Mar/06
· 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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