AIDS medicine available in Redlight area
One of Asia's largest red light districts, Sonagachi will next month roll out an experimental project for providing HIV-preventive medicine to sex workers in what will be the first such initiative in the country.
The feasibility project recently received clearance from the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and Union Health Ministry and is likely to commence in December.
Under the project, 'Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis' (PrEP), regular medicine would be given to an HIV-negative sex worker who engages sexually with an HIV-positive person, said a senior official of an NGO working for the welfare of sex workers.
The medicine is designed to prevent sex workers from HIV infection, said Samarjit Jana principal of the NGO, Sonagachi Research and Training Institute (SRTI). According to jana, PrEP has the potential to bring down the HIV risk factor by 60-70 per cent among high-risk groups such as sex-workers. The project will be financed by the Melinda Gates Foundation.
SRTI is an arm of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a forum of 1,30,000 sex-workers in West Bengal. According to Protim Roy, a doctor associated with the project, an awareness drive for the campaign has already been taken up among the sex workers.
The initiative, was welcomed by the AIDS Society of India, which felt that the feasibility project could be made part of a policy to prevent AIDS. "The government needs to move step by step. The feasibility project could soon turn into a policy to prevent AIDS, given that the PrEP Medicine is very cheap," said President of AIDS Society of India, IS Gilada.
National programme officer at NACO, BB Rewari, pointed out that some factors need to be considered, such as its acceptability in society, especially among sex workers. He added that the medicine along with the use of condoms had been very successful abroad in preventing HIV infection.
Reportedly, the the project will be a two-year one to be implemented after identifying the HIV-negative sex-workers at Sonagachi.
"First, of the nearly 20,000 sex workers at Sonagachi, we will select 1,000 who do not have HIV virus. A counselling class will be undertaken for them to inform them of the efficacy of PrEP. Presently an awareness programme is on," Jana said.
Jana also said that the selected sex workers would undergo blood tests every three months to ascertain their HIV status, adding that after two years a report would be published on the project.