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Thursday, 15 March 2012

HIV risk 29 times higher among Asian sex workers


Women engaged in sex trade in most developing countries, are nearly 14 times more likely to get infected by HIV compared to general women population, a new study has claimed.

The research, an analysis of over 100 studies involving nearly 100,000 female sex workers in 50 low and medium-income countries, found that overall prevalence of HIV in these women was 12 percent.

But, they are at 14 time increased risk of being infected compared to the general women population, said the authors who detailed their findings in The Lancet.

In 26 countries deemed to have a high HIV prevalence, the researchers found that about 31 per cent of female sex workers were HIV positive and they were 12 times more likely to be infected than women from the general population.

The region where sex workers have greater risk of getting HIV infected was Asia (29-times increases risk) compared to a 12-times increased risk in Africa and Latin America, said the researchers led by Dr Stefan Baral of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

"We identified consistent evidence of substantially higher levels of HIV among female sex workers compared with all women of reproductive age in low-income and middle-income countries in all regions with data," the authors said.

"Although female sex workers have long been understood to be a key affected population, the scope and breadth of their disproportionate risk for HIV infection had to date not been systematically documented," they said.

"These findings suggest an urgent need to scale up access to quality HIV-prevention programming and services among female sex workers because of their heightened burden of disease and likelihood of onward transmission through high numbers of sexual partners as clients," they concluded.

In view of the heightened HIV burden female sex workers carry in these countries, the researchers said improvement of linkages to antiretroviral treatment, retention in care and ongoing prevention for sex workers with HIV is crucial.

"Considerations of the legal and policy environments in which sex workers operate and the important role of stigma, discrimination and violence targeting sex workers globally will be required to reduce the disproportionate disease burden among these women," they said.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Kate Shannon and Dr Julio Montaner of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver said: "As the epidemic matures in many settings, with some countries already reporting over 50 percent of sex workers living with HIV, comprehensive initiatives simultaneously targeting HIV prevention, ART access, and care are increasingly vital.

"As highlighted in a recent report by the UNAIDS advisory on sex work and HIV, removal of structural barriers (such as criminalised laws and policies, violence) remains a necessary precondition to an effective HIV response in sex work worldwide," they added.

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