New Delhi: They are the “target” population for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the country, but sex workers continue to be ignorant about transmission of this deadly disease, a study claimed.
Though sex workers use condoms with their clients, they are not so particular with their lovers, claimed the study conducted by NGOs “Population Council” and “CARE-India”.
The survey, which was done among brothel and non-brothel- based sex workers, in the towns of Rajahmundry and Kakinada in the east Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, which is considered to have one of the highest HIV-prevalence rate in the country.
“Though awareness about modes of HIV transmission and methods of prevention was very high among all groups of sex workers, at the same time, myths and misconceptions were also prevalent,” Vaishali Sharma Mahendra, a senior programme officer of the Population Council, told PTI.
She said the study showed one-third of sex workers felt that HIV-transmission risk can be reduced by washing or douching vagina after sex.
“Over 90% of sex workers mentioned they wash their vagina with water mixed with dettol or soda or turmeric after sex,” she said, adding that this puts not only them at risk, but others too.
The survey, conducted with the aim to understand their sexual and reproductive ill-health, found that those who are HIV-positive used condoms with their regular partners, but the others, who are free of the infection, use it only with their clients and not with their husbands or lovers.
Majority of the sex workers had undertaken HIV voluntary counselling and testing services which should serve as an entry point to link the HIV-positive sex workers to care and treatment services, Mahendra said.
“Better services would ensure there is no drop-out due to inaccurate information. It is important to know that 80% of infections are through sexual route,” she said.
Most sex workers felt they were at high-risk of HIV infection owing to their work, prompting them to get tested, as compared to the home-based ones.
The survey, in which 440 sex workers were interviewed, found that a significant proportion of the brothel-based and mobile sex workers have experienced violence.
While half of them said they were beaten and slapped, one-fourth mentioned they were forced to have sex with one person and one-fifth reported that they were forced to have sex with more than one person, it said.
In most of these cases the perpetrator was the customer followed by rowdies and then the police.
“The reason for this violent response from the customer was because the sex worker had insisted on the use of the condom against the wish of the customer,” the report said.
Majority of the sex workers mentioned they drank daily — mostly with their customers, followed by their own friends — a reason that sometimes make them forget to use condom.
Most of the women were either separated, deserted by their husbands or widowed and said they entered the profession to support their family, including parents and children. Some of them even said that they were either sold or lured or forced into the profession.
Only 14% wanted to have a child and to avoid pregnancies they opted for sterilisation.
“We have to start looking at them as women and not just sex workers. They face health-related problems, connected with violence, family planning, pregnancies and gynaecology. All these needs to be addressed along with HIV testing and counselling,” Mahendra said.
“We need to address sex workers sexual and reproductive-health needs and strengthen linkages with HIV prevention, treatment and care in order to provide comprehensive care to them as women and not just as target-population for HIV prevention efforts,” she said.