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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Survey Exposes Deadly Ignorance of Sex Workers
Josephine Ma
September 26, 2003
South China Morning Post (09.20.03) - Friday, September 26,

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 6 million women in mainland China engage in prostitution. The first in-depth study of the mainland sex trade found striking misconceptions among prostitutes about sex, AIDS and other STDs.

More than 42 percent say they ask clients to wear condoms, but if the clients look clean and are good looking, few women insist, according to head researcher Victor Yuan Yue. For the study, sponsored by the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project, researchers posed as clients and introduced themselves as marketing researchers for condom manufacturers when they interviewed and/or distributed questionnaires to 802 prostitutes in Yunan and Sichuan provinces two years ago.

Two in five of the women had never had a health check, and more than half did not consult doctors when they contracted STDs - no surprise since prostitution is illegal in mainland China. "Some believe HIV can be transmitted by mosquitoes," said Yuan, and few pay attention to the expiration date on condoms. He said that clients' willingness to wear condoms was a deciding factor in whether or not they were used.

A parallel survey of 800 men ages 25-45 in Yunan and Sichuan found many who said they would pay more for unprotected sex, and a significant number who believed condoms did not effectively prevent HIV.

Fewer than one in five prostitutes practiced safe sex with their husbands or boyfriends. Without effective education, sex workers could become a huge network for HIV/AIDS transmission, he added. Yuan said it was important to present sex education early in school because less than half of the women under 38 had completed junior secondary school.