Desperate and displaced, some Burundian women will do anything, including have unprotected sex for money, to escape the dreadful living conditions in the Bujumbura suburb of Sabe, where more than 480 families of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have lived for several years.
Burundi has more than 100,000 IDPs as a result of several years of political turmoil; most of the families in Sabe are returnees from neighbouring countries.
"I know cases of parents whose daughters go into town or elsewhere every night to look for money from men who offer big money [for sex]," Ferdianne Bukuru, vice-president of the Sabe IDP site, told IRIN/PlusNews. "Young girls are attracted by wealthy men and are drawn into prostitution as IDPs have no means to survive."
For many of these girls and women, the fear of HIV is dwarfed by the immediate need for money to buy food and other necessities.
"Do not talk of AIDS... I don't fear [it]; I would rather get food and die in the future instead of dying hungry today," said 18-year-old Jacqueline*. "I have been at this site since 1993; nobody has come to help me to improve my life and especially go back to school."
Madeleine*, 32, feels the same way. "When I came across a man who feeds me and clothes me, I must accept, for food," she said. "Who can refuse a large sum of money when she is in poverty like this?"
Madeleine said NGOs fighting HIV/AIDS visited the site occasionally, but not enough to have an impact on people's behaviour. Condom use - perceived to be less profitable than unprotected sex - is not as consistent as it should be.
|Do not talk of AIDS... I don't fear [it]; I would rather get food and die in the future instead of dying hungry today|
"Condoms do not allow us to have enough money; if a man offers his money, he insists on intercourse without a condom," said one 17-year-old student.
Women who do not turn to sex work often wind up becoming second or third wives to the few men in the site who are able to support more than one wife.
"I already understand what HIV is, but I don't think my force is enough to stand against it," said Nzeyimana*, a mother of two girls. "These men may have more than three women - as they brandish [currency] notes, no one can resist.”
The few organizations working to prevent HIV/AIDS say their work is hampered by poor funding.
"For a long time we had collaborators at this site and its surrounding areas in the fight against AIDS in IDPs sites, but now things have changed. We had targeted IDPs sites in Bujumbura and elsewhere, but we are forced not to work at these sites due to limited resources and logistics," said Basilisse Ndayisaba, coordinator of the Society of Women Against AIDS-Burundi, one of the largest HIV NGOs in the country. "These IDPs no longer have the advice or training of our staff."
Ndayisaba said her organization last worked in Sabe in May 2010.
Burundi has an adult HIV prevalence of 3.3 percent; the country's fight against HIV has been hit with delays in Global Fund grants holding up activities and most recently, the World Bank’s withdrawal of its HIV funding.
*Only one name provided to protect the source's identity