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Ind, Pak prostitutes talk AIDS prevention

M Chhaya in Kolkata | June 20, 2005 15:20 IST

A group of Pakistani prostitutes is picking up tips in safe sex and 'brothel management' in one of India's biggest red light districts in Kolkata, health activists said on Monday.

Indian prostitutes showed their Pakistani peers around the crowded, dirty sex quarters of Sonagachi that has some 6,000 sex workers, and told them about an Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome intervention programme run by prostitutes.

"We informed them about our anti-AIDS programme and our brothel management technique," said Mrinal Dutta, health activist and spokesperson of the Sonagachi prostitutes' group called DMSC.

Sonagachi's HIV/AIDS control module that had prostitutes refusing sex without condoms brought down infection rates to around five percent from about 90 percent a decade ago.

The programme's global recognition saw the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation use the module as a model for a $200 million project in six Indian cities.

"We are particularly impressed with DMSC's self-regulatory body which prevents the entry of minors into sex trade," said Majid Rani, leader of the Pakistani prostitutes' team. 

The visitors went around the dingy lanes of Sonagachi and entered several dark, dank one-room brothels to 'check out work conditions'.

"We have similar problems in the two countries. So, we tried to learn from each other's experience and share ideas," said Swapna Gayen, a former Indian prostitute and now a health worker. 

Prostitution is banned in India, but state-funded HIV/AIDS campaigns are also implemented through the Sonagachi prostitutes' group. 

About 5.1 million people in India have HIV or AIDS, almost as many as South Africa.

India's health ministry has reported another 28,000 HIV/AIDS cases in 2004 compared with an increase of 520,000 in 2003, a 400 percent slowdown in the growth of new infections.

But later the country's science minister conceded data showing a dramatic fall in the growth of HIV/AIDS infections in the country with the world's second largest number of cases could be misleading.


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