Puzzled scientists try finding secrets of Nairobi sex-workers

Puzzled scientists try finding secrets of Nairobi sex-workers



NAIROBI, NOV. 4 (©The Kathmandu Post)


A group of sex workers in Nairobi have been puzzling the medical scientists for years. What puzzles them is the sex-worker’s ‘inherent resistance’ against HIV virus. It’s been over one and half decades they started the profession at the cramped settlement of Majengo in the outskirts of Nairobi, most of them stand uninfected by the HIV virus despite several unsafe sex activities.


A group of scientists at the University of Manitoba aided by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are observing some 3000 of these sex-workers in trying to find out the secret behind their resistance. The scientists hope to develop an AIDS vaccine from the research.


“We have been observing a group of sex-workers from Majengo and we are very positive and are close to a successful discovery,” said Dr. Francis Nyanuibo, a member involved in the research, coming out of a small HIV clinic at Majengo, which stands in sharp contrast to the high-rise buildings of Nairobi on the background.


The sex-workers, too, admit that they could have some sort of resistance power in that they are still tested negative despite a countless possible contact with the virus. “You see, the Kanyan males are very rude, most of my clients don’t like to use condoms and until five years ago, I used to avoid those precautions,” said Hidaya, a chubby-faced 27 year-old sex-worker at Majengo, as she stood for a brief interview in front of one of the tattered houses that looked squeezed together along a littered road. “I am arrested many times and am raped by the police under custody without using condoms.”


The researchers led by a Canadian scientist named Dr. Richard Lester have been watching whether they could trace any biochemical changes in the cervix of the sex-workers before and after they come in contact with HIV virus. Cervix is the lower, narrow portion of the uterus where it joins with the top end of the vagina and is the main area from where the virus gets an entry.


Dr. Nyanuibo said that his team is taking samples of cervix biocells from the sex-workers when they are sexually active and when they are not. To observe the changes, the participating sex-workers are asked to refrain from sex for three weeks, and in return are paid small ‘compensation enough for their three-week’s living expenses’.


The same research team has also been looking into some “discordant couples” -- in which one of the partners has HIV positive -- in trying to find what the HIV resistant so that a vaccine could be developed. “We have a number of such discordant couples who continue to remain healthy with unchanged HIV status despite their continued sex without contraception” said Dr. Nyanuibo.

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