Health Officials To Discuss Links Between Commercial Sex Work, HIV Transmission in Baltimore
Health officials from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Baltimore Health Department plan to hold the first in a series of meetings this month to discuss the links between commercial sex work and HIV transmission in an effort to curb the spread of the disease in the Baltimore area, the Baltimore Sun reports (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 11/9).
According to a two-part series published this week in the Sun, the association between sex work and HIV transmission is a reason why the Baltimore area has the second-highest rate of new AIDS cases in the country after Miami. Studies have found that among sex workers who trade sex for drugs, HIV infection rates are as high as 30%.
In an effort to reach the population, a pilot program will be launched that twice weekly will send a van with needle-exchange, testing and outreach services to locations known for commercial sex work, Joshua Sharfstein, the city's health commissioner, recently said. The city aims to start the program in January 2008. The city health department also aims to determine which neighborhoods and risk groups are being neglected by the city's efforts to curb HIV/AIDS. According to Sharfstein, the city has lacked a comprehensive prevention strategy to fight HIV, in part because the services performed by a number of organizations receiving public funds have not been assessed (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/6).
At the upcoming meeting, officials plan to discuss how to collect better data on commercial sex work, the role of commercial sex work in the transmission of HIV and whether enough is being done to reach the population, Sharfstein said. Claudia Gray, prevention chief at the Maryland AIDS Administration, said the first meeting will bring together four or five community organizations serving sex workers. She added that officials will ask leaders of the groups about the services they provide and what they perceive to be their greatest needs.
The effort is "an exciting and outstanding initiative," Sidney Ford, director of Baltimore-based You Are Never Alone, said, adding, "There is a lot of promise in any collaboration between the city, state and private providers to focus attention on this much neglected issue" (Baltimore Sun, 11/9).