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Key risk factors for substance use among female sex workers in Soweto and Klerksdorp, South Africa: A cross-sectional study



Sex workers in South Africa experience high levels of trauma and mental health issues, but little is known about their drug and alcohol use. This study assessed the prevalence of substance use and its key risk factors amongst female sex workers (FSWs) at two sites in South Africa.


Two cross-sectional studies were conducted, in Soweto and Klerksdorp, South Africa. Using respondent-driven sampling (RDS) 508 FSWs in Soweto and 156 in Klerksdorp were enrolled. A study-specific survey was used to collect social and demographic information, substance use, mental ill-health, and HIV status. Raw and RDS-adjusted data were analyzed using Chi-squared tests of association. Weighted and unweighted Poisson regression models were used to assess key risk factors for alcohol and drug use at both univariate and multivariate levels.


Of the 664 FSWs, 56.2% were binge drinkers and 29.4% reported using drugs within the last year. Living in a home with regular food (RR: 1.2597, 95% CI: 1.1009-1.4413) and being HIV positive (RR: 1.1678, 95% CI: 1.0227-1.3334) were associated with a higher risk of binge drinking. Having symptoms suggestive of post-traumatic stress disorder (RR: 1.1803, 95% CI: 1.0025-1.3895) and past year physical/sexual abuse from either intimate (RR: 1.3648, 95% CI: 1.1522-1.6167) or non-intimate partners (RR: 1.3910, 95% CI: 1.1793-1.6407) were associated with a higher risk of drug use.


In conclusion, our findings demonstrate a high prevalence of alcohol and drug use among FSWs in Soweto and Klerksdorp with site-specific contextual dynamics driving substance use. Site differences highlight the importance of tailoring site-specific substance use harm mitigation for this key population.

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