Experts meeting in Beijing today at a United Nations-backed regional workshop on stopping the spread of HIV called for the promotion of increased condom use between sex workers and their clients.
Unprotected sex is now the leading transmission route for HIV in China, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said in a news release. Sex work, in a variety of settings, is widespread, and condom use is generally low.
The meeting offered an opportunity for participants to review successful local efforts to promote “100 per cent condom use” or “no condom, no sex” in relations between sex workers and clients. Approaches vary, but generally involve cooperation among health authorities, police, entertainment venue owners, and sex workers trained to be peer educators, the agency said.
“The only way HIV/AIDS can spread into a general epidemic is through sexual transmission,” Dr. Hank Bekedam of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) told the meeting. “Scaling up the 100 per cent Condom Use Programme is an urgent priority.”
“If you want your programmes to work, involve communities,” stressed Khartini Siamah, coordinator of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers. Health workers need training so they don’t stigmatize sex workers seeking services, she added. “What does empowerment mean when sex workers cannot exercise their rights?”
“Sex workers are among the most vulnerable population group in the AIDS epidemic,” Dr. Bekedam said. “Promoting the consistent use of condoms will empower them to protect themselves and help to reduce the spread of AIDS.”
The two-day workshop, co-hosted by UNFPA and WHO, brought together 120 participants from national, provincial and local health departments, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and UN agencies.