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HIV programmes need to bring blessers onboard

South African healthcare workers need to actively implement and support strategies that target people at risk and 'blessers' who are driving the HIV epidemic among young women.
Hermina Manjekana Dyeshana
Hermina Manjekana Dyeshana

“We need to focus on the ‘missing men’. They are known as the players, plyers, sugar daddies or blessers. They enter into relationships with young girls as a transaction: you give me unprotected sex and I give you money, a cell phone, airtime, new clothes, make up, school fees, a car, whatever you or your family might need.

“The blessers are normally older men who have concurrent sexual partners in their own age group and are sometimes also married. These men are driving HIV transmission, and compounding an already massive public healthcare problem,” says Hermina Manjekana Dyeshana, programme specialist for maternal, newborn, child & women’s health; prevention of mother to child transmission & nutrition at Right to Care.

“We know that there are large numbers of older HIV-infected men who have multiple concurrent partners. Very few know their HIV status and many opt not to be tested at all. Those who are recently infected with HIV have extremely high viral loads. Tragically, they are not entering the health system to get support or treatment. This is a major concern.”

She explains that it is important not alienate the blessers as they need to be brought in for HIV testing and other screening and treatment. accordingly.

All about economics

Young women bear the brunt of the HIV pandemic in SA. Nearly a third of all new HIV infections in South Africa occur amongst 15-24-year-olds and adolescent girls are eight times more likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts. A recent HSRC study shows that almost a quarter of all new infections occur amongst young women aged 15-24.

“It’s all about economics. Most of these young women cannot afford to buy the things that they need and are therefore willing to engage in transactional sexual relations with older men to get them. So young vulnerable woman will gladly accept what her blesser gives her, and she repays him with unprotected sex. Regrettably, the unintended gifts include pregnancy, or an STI like HIV. Then, the happy blesser goes home to his wife or may even stop along the way take part in several other extra-marital relationships,” Dyeshana says.

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