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New PNG Strategy To Counter AIDS In Sex Workers

4 April
PNG: Radical new strategy to counter AIDS in sex workers

World Vision has clinched a deal with the University of Papua New Guinea's Medical School to kick-off a radical new pilot project to combat AIDS amongst sex workers and their clients.

The agreement was signed by New Zealander Paul Martell ? director of World Vision Pacific operations and the dean of the medical faculty, Professor Mathias Sapuri.

It's the first time the strategy has been applied in PNG and it has been trialed in only a handful of countries around the world.

The technique known as "periodic presumptive treatment" involves the immediate regular supply of a range of antibiotics to high-risk groups before the results of testing for STDs is known. It presumes the target patient will almost certainly be infected with one or more sexually transmitted disease.

Previously Port Moresby sex workers who made it to hospital might have to wait several weeks for the results of blood and urine tests and could continue to infect clients until test results were confirmed.

Mr Martell said it was a situation that provoked enormous stress and worry.

"It's a death sentence for sex workers and their clients," he said.

Presumptive treatment enables most sexually transmitted infections to be treated immediately by the antibiotics - without waiting for the results of tests - thus reducing the risk of transmission. Even HIV transmission is expected to decline since there is a reduced risk of transferring infection from lesions caused by other STDs.

In addition to supplying regular doses of antibiotics, the programme tests for the presence of STDs in sex workers and their clients at three month intervals to monitor the efficacy of the treatment.

Mr Martell said under the agreement the Medical School will conduct the tests while World Vision staff will collect body fluid samples and offer counseling, free condoms and health advice to sex workers and their clients.

He said the programme aims to boost the confidence and self esteem of sex workers, whose activities are illegal and who are often subject to abuse by police and the general populace.

"The lack of self esteem makes the problem of sexually transmitted disease worse because sex workers are reluctant to seek help for health problems and lack the confidence to demand clients use condoms," he said.

About 150 sex workers and 50 clients are involved in the pilot programme. At its conclusion, results will be analysed to see how the programme might be expanded to determine future policy in relation to combating AIDS and other STDs among high risk groups.

PNG has seen an explosion in AIDS cases in recent years. The disease is the biggest cause of death at Port Moresby hospital and an estimated one in six sex workers are HIV positive. The World Bank says there could be as many as 50,000 HIV cases in PNG - the worst affected country in the region.


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