SAHARA J : journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance 14(1) 171-184 doi 10.1080/17290376.2017.1394907
Classification of professional and non-professional female sex workers (FSWs) into different categories, never previously reported in the Central African Republic (CAR), may be useful to assess the dynamics of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic, design operational intervention programmes to combat HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and to adapt these programmes to the broad spectrum of sexual transactions in the CAR. Our study proposes a socio-behavioural classification of FSWs living in the CAR and engaged in transactional and commercial sex. Thus, the aims of the study were these: (i) to categorize FSWs according to socio-anthropologic criteria in Bangui and (ii) to examine the association between a selection of demographic and risk variables with the different categories of female sex work as an outcome. A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was conducted in 2013 to describe the spectrum of commercial sex work (CSW) in Bangui among 345 sexually active women having more than 2 sexual partners, other than their regular partner, during the prior 3 months and reporting to have received money or gifts in return for their sexual relationships. According to socio-behavioural characteristics, FSWs were classified into six different categories. Professional FSWs, constituting 32.5% of the interviewed women, were divided in two categories: pupulenge (13.9%), i.e., dragonflies (sometimes called gba moundjou, meaning literally look at the White) consisting of roamers, who travel around the city to hotels and nightclubs seeking wealthy clients, with a preference for French men; and the category of kata (18.6%), i.e., FSWs working in poor neighbourhoods. Non-professional FSWs, constituting 67.5% of the interviewed women, were divided into four categories: street and market vendors (20.8%), students (19.1%), housewives (15.7%) and unskilled civil servants (11.9%). In general, CSW in the CAR presents a remarkably heterogeneous phenomenon. Risk-taking behaviour regarding STI/HIV infection appears to be different according to the different categories of female CSW. The groups of katas and street vendors were poorer and less educated, consumed more alcohol or other psycho-active substances (cannabis, tramadol and glue) and, consequently, were more exposed to STI. Our results emphasise the high level of vulnerability of both poor professional FSWs (kata) and non-professional sex workers, especially street vendors, who should be taken into account when designing prevention programmes targeting this population for STI/HIV control purposes.