Long separation from the family, pathetic working conditions in ship-breaking and recycling yards and comparatively good money are prompting the large population of migrant workers in Alang, Gujarat, to go to sex workers and thereby increase the risk of contracting HIV infection.
This necklace shaped ship-breaking yard, located on the western flank of Gulf of Cambay, is considered one of the biggest ship-breaking and recycling yards in the world and is a home to thousands of migrants from Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
"The migrant workers who live in the ship-breaking yards of Alang and Sosiya exhibit inclination to visit sex workers and thereby increase the risk of contracting HIV infections," said Dr Niloo Vaishnav, Chairman of Bhavnagar Blood Bank.
"We conducted HIV survey of the migrant workers of Alang ship breaking yards from July 2004 to September by taking samples of 2155 people. The result indicated that 0.7 per cent of the people tested HIV positive," he said.
Vaishnav said though the result is not alarming, what is a matter of concern is their High Risk Behaviour. If the number of HIV infection is less, it is only because the sex workers whom they are visiting may not be having the infection. But their behaviour is definitely a matter of concern and hence we are creating awareness among the workers," he added.
The study was conducted under the auspices of Project AIDS, Bhavnagar Blood Bank which is engaged in AIDS education and prevention work in Alang for over 10 years focusing on reducing high risk behaviour among the workers, Vaishnav said.
"As with other migrant workforce, the HIV status of the Alang population was of special interest because of long separation of the workers from home and family and the frequent visit to local sex workers," he added.
Vidyut Joshi, former Vice Chancellor of Bhavnagar University who has made a detailed study of the problems of the ship-breaking yards of Alang and Sosiya, said, "There is a growing sex worker industry in and around ASSBY. Knowing that most of the men are living alone for a long time, the sex workers know their physical needs and hence they come there often to lure them."
Ranjan Macwana, Project officer of Project AIDS who is working in Alang, told PTI that they were working to effect behavioural changes among the men by educating them about the need to use condoms whenever they go to the sex workers.
"Our aim is mainly Sexually Transmitted Disease management, condom promotion and high risk behavioural change communication. This is done through peer educators and volunteers who identify workers indulging in high risk behaviours and then are given counseling," she added.
Sameer Solanki, Field officer with AIDS Project, said to create awareness among the workers, they involve themselves with the workers on the occasion of religious festivals such as Durga Puja, Ganapati puja, befriend them, win their confidence and then create awareness among them about HIV prevention through safe sex.
Vaishnav said since there are no notified red light areas in Saurashtra, the workers visit the sex workers in Bhavnagar and Rajkot. They also visit villagers in the coastal areas where some women from fishermen community do part time work as sex workers to supplement their income.
Besides HIV, there is also prevalence of Hepatitis B among some of the workers. Among the sample workers, a total of 3.9 per cent had contracted Hepatitis virus.
Other health problems associated with the workers included skin diseases, eye problems, filaria and STDs. Workers who cut hazardous substance such as asbestos are also susceptible to asbestosis - an irreversible lung disease, said Dr Vidyut Joshi who has done a study along with UNESCO.