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Female sex workers in Karachi dying unchecked

Written by: Staff
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Islamabad, Dec 4 (UNI) One woman sex worker dies every second month of a sexually transmitted disease (STDs) in the red light area on Napier Road in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, a media report said.

There are at least 62,000 women sex workers in the city and other research by a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) suggests at least 26 per cent of them have some kind of STD, the Daily Times quoted a World Bank mapping report as saying.

However, none of the workers tested have been found positive for HIV/AIDS so far and the rate of STDs among the general population is 12 per cent.

Karachi city has four types of women sex workers: brothel-based, street-based, kothi khana-based and home-based.

The first three categories were identified by the World Bank mapping conducted in 2002, while the fourth category was discovered during a study by the Canadian International Agency for Development in 2004.

A large number of those involved in the business are underage.

House-based female sex workers are the most difficult group to identify and contact, explained Jahan, a community outreach worker of the Gender and Reproductive Health (GRH) NGO, and a former sex worker.

After failing to find home-based workers through the usual methods, the GRH included beauty parlours in their outreach activities, she said adding that beauty parlours are a good contact point for these women.

Usually the family of the home-based sex worker is unaware of her profession, said GRH President Mirza Aleem Baig. When the family identifies her as a prostitute, she is usually turfed out on to the streets.

Meena, a community outreach worker who still works as a prostitute, said it was difficult to talk to the sex worker initially.

''They were afraid of us but with the passage of time they have opened up and stared talking. Now we meet them regularly,'' she said.

They give free condoms to the sex workers and tell them about the dangers of unsafe sex, Meena said.

''We advise them to always use condoms. If they have a regular client then they could avoid the use of a condom but not with those who just visit them once or twice,'' she said, adding they also encouraged the clients to wear condoms.

Aleem Baig said almost 90 per cent of sex workers approaching the centre had health issues while only 10 per cent had other problems such as financial trouble or harassment by clients.

However, these women do not go to the doctor till an emergency, Baig said.

Explaining the outreach process, Meena said that they first approach the madam (naika) of the brothel and try to convince her to encourage safe sex.

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