Monday, April 3, 2006

"Heartfelt consent" the Key to HIV/AIDS Prevention for Sonagachi Project


SMARAJIT JANA, DEHLI-BASED
PUBLIC HEALTH SCIENTIST

In an article entitled "The Prostitute's Union" on The Scientific American's website, Madhusree Mukerjee reports that in Calcutta, India Smarajit Jana has found a way to slash the incidence of HIV/AIDS among sex workers--by organizing sex workers as any other labor collective.

The Sonagachi Project that Jana started with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that "heartfelt consent" was the key to getting these women to pledge to use condoms--they had to first be educated about how the virus is spread.

The project is now run entirely by the women, many of whom who were sold into sexual slavery as children. More than 60,000 have pledged to use condoms. The project also offers bank loans, schooling for children, literacy training for adults, reproductive health care and cheap condoms--and has virtually eliminated trafficking of women in the locale. Best of all, the project has kept the HIV prevalence rate among prostitutes in Sonagachi down to 5 percent, whereas in the brothels of Mumbai (Bombay) it is around 60.

Work like this is exceedingly important in reducing sex trafficking in countries where HIV/AIDS is rampant. The demand for prostitutes without HIV/AIDS means that younger and younger girls who are viewed as "clean" are trafficked into these areas and sold into sexual slavery. Reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS among existing prostitutes means that less young girls are in demand by sex traffickers.

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