Times of India (11.25.12)
Cellphone use by prostitutes in India has freed them from the brothels and the control of madams, but it may also cost them dearly. Sex workers are using inexpensive mobile phones to lure customers elsewhere, but this independence makes it difficult for the government and safe-sex counselors to find them. Formerly government workers and other safe sex workers could use the brothels as important prevention points to offer free advice and condoms. Without the advice and free condom distribution, counselors fear that sex workers and their customers are returning to dangerous unprotected sex.
Studies show that sex workers who rely on cellphones are more susceptible to HIV as they are less likely to require their clients to use condoms, compared to those in the brothels. When interviewed, sex workers stated that they had given up control in the bedroom in exchange for more control over their money. India has about 1.5 million AIDS cases, less than the predicted 25 million. Reasons for the success in preventing HIV include the fact that women in India have fewer sex partners than in many other developing countries, as well as the way that the government targeted red light districts with safe sex messages and free condom distributions and trained dozens of sex workers to counsel their peers in safe-sex practices. Also, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation underwrote an intensive effort to target such high-risk groups as sex workers, gay men, and intravenous drug users.
When the sex workers move from brothels, the targeted interventions are threatened. Also, because of the use of cellphones, more women are drawn to becoming sex workers, and more men who may not have gone to a brothel are using cellphone-accessible sex workers because of the convenience and privacy that this affords. Ashok Alexander, former director in India of the Gates Foundation, noted that the mobility of sex workers is huge and contacting them is very difficult. He noted that it is a totally different challenge, and the strategies will have to change The Gates Foundation is lending its oversight and support for AIDS prevention in India.