KARACHI: A three-day skill building workshop on STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV got under way on Thursday to educate and prepare sex workers for running various preventive health programmes solely for their own benefit.
The United Nations Population Fund, an international agency, is organising the workshop with the collaboration of the National Aids Control Programme. About 70 female sex workers, mainly from the red light areas of both Karachi and Hyderabad, turned up on the first day to attend lectures and interactive sessions.
The female workers were brought to the workshop entitled ‘Skill building workshop on HIV and sex works’ with the support of an NGO and contraceptive marketers, said an organiser, adding that there was a plan to bring the female sex workers operating from kothis, bungalows and those giving services on call to such a forum in the future.
At the inaugural session, the participants were told that since the late 1980s a large proportion of HIV cases had been detected in men, particularly those who had worked abroad.
At present, based on cumulative cases, a higher proportion of people have been infected through sexual transmission, but the epidemic is expanding rapidly among injecting drug users, with a reported prevalence of 26 per cent among drug users in Karachi alone.
A recent round of surveillance has shown an overall 6.4 per cent prevalence among male transvestites and 0.9 per cent prevalence among male sex workers. However, the rate among female sex workers continues to be low, informed Sindh Aids Control Programme officials.
The country manager of the UNFPA, Daniel Baker, said that the main objective of the advocacy workshop was to discuss and develop appropriate strategies to address the sexual health needs of female sex workers in the country.
The experts will help in developing models of good practices in providing culturally appropriate sexual health promotion strategies to sex workers, he added.
Experts, including a sociologist from Bangladesh working as the UNFPA consultant at Myanmar, Habib-ur-Rehman, highlighted the risks and needs of sex workers and asserted that work needs to be done to build the capacity of government bodies, service providers, NGOs and donors in addressing these needs.
The subject of the first day included FSW work in Karachi, field work methodologies, boyfriends/husbands of FSW and peer education.
The workers were told that development of prevention skills and implementation of strategies should come from them, as it was the only viable way to increase personal and organisational capacities of the sex workers who were at risk of STIs and HIV.
An expert told Dawn that NGOs find it difficult to reach sex workers or to implement programmes that address their risk and prevention issues adequately.