Asia HIV Programmes Fail to Reach Sex Workers

National AIDS programmes in Asia often fail to prioritise those most of risk of infection and need to work on more targeted HIV prevention schemes to stop the disease from spreading, the regional director of the UN agency in charge of HIV/AIDS prevention said.

Aid agencies say sex work is one of the main drivers of AIDS in the region, home to the second largest number of people living with HIV after sub-Sahran Africa.
Sex workers are extremely vulnerable, with HIV prevalence among this group reaching 20 percent in some countries even though adult HIV prevalence in Asia is less than 1 percent for all countries except Thailand.

“In Asia, national AIDS programmes often fail to prioritise those most at risk of infection,” Steve Krauss, regional director of UNAIDS, told AlertNet. “Hardly any country is devoting significant resources to programmes with sex work, for men who have sex with men and drug users.”

In a first for the region, government officials from eight countries and staff from United Nations agencies this week joined sex workers in Pattaya near Bangkok to hear first-hand experiences and look at ways to review policies and laws that keep sex workers from accessing HIV services.

A 2008 report by the Asia Commission on AIDS highlighted the potential scale of the problem. It said an estimated 10 million women sell sex to 75 million men in Asia, who have intimate relations with a further 50 million people.

Yet, only one out of three sex workers are reached by HIV prevention programmes. This is partly because financial resources on such programmes are shockingly low.
UNAIDS say programmes targeting sex workers and their clients account for between 0.1 and 10 percent of money spent on AIDS between 2007 and 2009 in six countries (Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand).

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