UNFPA, Local NGO Partner for HIV Education Efforts Aimed at Pakistani Sex Workers
The United Nations Population Fund is partnering with a local Pakistani nongovernmental organization in an effort to educate female commercial sex workers in the city of Karachi -- where thousands of such women are at high risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections through unprotected sex -- on prevention methods and condom use, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Mizra Alim Baig, president of the Gender and Reproductive Health Forum, said the organization has been able to distribute hundreds of UNFPA-provided condoms daily "in the hope that somewhere a life might be saved." Baig also said that it "used to be a thankless job" but that he is "happy" female commercial sex workers have the "tools and knowledge to better protect themselves against HIV/AIDS, STIs and hepatitis." The forum also utilizes a group of outreach workers that includes former sex workers. "These women know what these [female sex workers] are going through and can relate to them in a better way," Baig said.
According to a 2007 UNFPA survey, 1,015 out of 11,324 female sex workers in Karachi had taken HIV tests, and two tested positive for the virus. IRIN/PlusNews reports that the first reported case of an HIV-positive female sex worker in Karachi "created a scare in the city's brothels," and although many sex workers tried to insist on condom use, "the customers mostly refused." Baig said that women in Pakistani society are "regarded as second class citizens" and the "situation is worse" for female sex workers, who often have unprotected sex with members of other high risk groups, such as injection drug users and male sex workers who also have sex with men. He added, "We may not be on the brink of an epidemic when it comes to [female sex workers], but the facts remain that these women are vulnerable" (IRIN/PlusNews, 1/6).