Growth of Asia’s Sex Industry Hurting Efforts to Fight HIV/AIDS
The expansion and diversification of Asia's sex industry is stymieing efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, AP/Newsday reports. World Health Organization officials said yesterday that the sex trade in Asia is expanding from "traditional red light districts" into bars, karaoke parlors and restaurants, making the distribution of condoms and AIDS information "more difficult." In addition, the agency reported that students in the region "may occasionally sell sex" to help finance their education "and may not see themselves as sex workers at high risk of AIDS." Cris Tunon, a WHO program officer posted in Vietnam, said that shifts in sexual behavior and sexual norms are leaving people "more exposed to risky behavior." The WHO report also stated that Asia's sex industry is growing because of rising income disparities, poverty among women and the increased mobility of the Asian population (Thurber, AP/Newsday, 8/13). Gilles Poumerol, WHO's regional adviser on sexually transmitted diseases, stated that decriminalizing prostitution and drug abuse might help stem the spread of HIV infection because it would "not drive high risk behavior underground." The sex industry also needs to promote wider use of condoms among sex workers, "most" of whom do not use condoms, the agency stated. Although WHO officials noted that the number of HIV infections in Cambodia and Thailand have dropped, they stated that the "course of the epidemic" in Asia "depend[s] on how heavily populated countries like China and India respon[d]" to the virus (Brunnstrom, Reuters, 8/13).
Outreach Program Cuts HIV Infection Rate in Sex Workers
An outreach program targeting sex workers in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, has reduced the rate of new HIV infections in a group of the city's sex workers by more than two-thirds, Reuters Health reports. Research conducted during the mid-1990s found that approximately 80% of the city's female sex workers were HIV-positive. In 1994, researchers enrolled 542 HIV-negative female sex workers in Abidjan in the study. The women received confidential gynecologic screening and treatment, free condoms and counseling on the prevention of HIV and other STDs. The scientists tracked the HIV status of the study participants every six months from 1994 to 1997 and found that new HIV infection rates among the workers fell by 60% during that period, compared with infection rates prior to the program. The researchers also found that infection rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis "tumbled" during the study's time span. In addition, condom use among study participants increased during the study. By the end of the study, 82% of participants said they "consistently" used condoms during sexual intercourse, compared with 40% at the beginning of the study. The study authors conclude that because "female sex workers and their clients are a driving force of the HIV epidemic in many countries throughout the world," other nations should "consider adopting similar types of educational health care programs to protect women and stem the tide of AIDS" (Reuters Health, 8/10).