Urembo Wednesday: Creating Demand For PrEP

By Geoffrey Njenga

Nairobi, Kenya- Walking up the stairs to the 3rd floor of the wellness center run by Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support programme, my ears are tickled with the sound of warm music and my nostrils are hit with the scent of acetone and fingernail polish. I arrive at the reception and there are young beautiful ladies chatting and watching music videos as they wait for their turn to be pampered in an adjacent room.

Every Wednesday BHESP with support from Jilinde hosts Urembo Wednesday where sex workers get a chance to try something new with their nails, change their look and get pampered. However, there is a twist to this event. Not only do the girls get pampered they also get health talks on HIV prevention methods like condoms, Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), and the latest HIV prevention method Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)- a pill taken daily to prevent HIV infection for those at high risk. This is one of the many events that Jilinde in partnership with Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) is using to create demand for PrEP and health services in general.

The receptionist greets me with a friendly “hello” and a smile. “I am here to meet Mercy the Prevention Manager” I say with a smile. “Please have a seat” she tells me. She retreats into one of the offices and comes back to tell me Mercy will be with me shortly as she is wrapping up another meeting.

I decide to make new friends in the meantime and I started charting with Gladys a 23-year-old bubbly sex worker and an outreach worker at BHESP. “Why are you here today?” I inquire. “I am here to help with the event and to get myself pampered” she replies. “For you to be a successful sex worker you have to be attractive and be good looking” she continues. She invites me to the room where the action is happening and I am met with young women getting their nails done. In one corner of the room manicurists are busy tending to their clients, in another, there is a condom demonstration happening, there is also a station for snacks for the clients. I notice a health talk going on as they are being pampered. There are posters on the wall reminding clients the need to maintain a negative HIV status and use PrEP daily.

After 10 minutes, Mercy comes to where I am and pulls me aside. “Welcome to our Drop in Centre. This is a safe space for female sex workers where they not only get health services but also a space where they can come to catch up with their peers and relax” she says. As we continue talking I find out Urembo Wednesday came about after consultation with the sex workers as a way of creating demand for health services among sex workers and particularly PrEP.  “You see Wednesday is ladies’ night and what better way to get your mojo on than to pass by the wellness center and get pampered before proceeding to your hotspot” she says.

Urembo Wednesday is usually a hit with the sex workers and its one of the demand creation approach they are using together with Jilinde to ensure sex workers and those at high risk of HIV infection are reached with PrEP information and are able to take PrEP to prevent HIV infection.

After talking to Mercy, I walk back to Gladys who was getting her nails done. She had chosen different colors for each of her nails. “I have been on PrEP for 1 year 2 months now and I am satisfied with its protection. I can’t imagine living with HIV” she says. As I walk out of the wellness center I meet more ladies arriving at the facility to get their dose of beauty.