Johannesburg -

Reaching out to sexworkers as a population vulnerable to HIV is part of the country's strategic health plan, said SA National Aids Council CEO Fareed Abdullah on Wednesday.

He said part of the plan was to prevent new infections and this meant helping “key populations” who represented most of the new infections.

“These (efforts) will have a more profound effect going forward in key populations.”

Abdullah said the plan recognised sexworkers as a key population.

Department of health HIV prevention director Thato Chidarikire said about 19.8 percent of new HIV infections in South Africa were from sexworkers.

Men, another key population, represented 9.2 percent of all new infections.

While the National Strategic Plan to combat HIV recognises sexworkers it came under criticism from the floor of the sexworkers symposium in Boksburg.

Sexworker activist Shane Tetzer criticised it for not proposing decriminalisation of sexwork.

“As a sexworker I don't find anything in this plan for decriminalisation,” said Tetzer.

“How can you talk about outreach and an enabling environment without decriminalisation?”

Tetzer argued that without decriminalisation sexworkers were vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from authorities including the police.

Abdullah acknowledged that decriminalisation was an important issue but said it had to be pushed through the legislative process.

“Let's not shout from the balcony and let's do things properly,” Adbullah said. - Sapa