Peer educators, big returns on modest investments, myths and realities: After a pivotal ruling, we’re reading about sex workers

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Photo credit: PJ Starr

The big news in the fight against HIV by and among people engaged in sex work happened Thursday, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the policy requirement that kept PEPFAR money from going to any group that didn’t explicitly condemn prostitution. But oral arguments, as well as the court’s opinion, touched little on the lives and contributions most affected by the policy. It was good at the end of the day, then, when the Centers For Disease Prevention and Control’s Prevention News Update landed in the inbox (you can subscribe here), to see it included two stories about the value of engaging sex workers in HIV responses. Those are the first two articles linked to below. The day before, a recently released report arrived on the gap between impact of HIV among “key populations” and the coverage they received at the last AIDS conference — from which a U.S. travel entry ban kept many people involved in sex work, or who have been arrested for drug use, from even attending. And, in the petit monde department, as Canada’s Supreme Court prepares to rule on laws pertaining to sex work, a story about a researcher there highlights the realities of sex work in that country. So, we’re reading about sex workers, at what could be a turning point.

In Ghana sex workers coach peers about HIV-AIDS prevention: They say they “take the keep ‘sex safe’ message right down to the street” handing out condoms and lubricants to fellow sex workers and clients, this article about a peer education HIV prevention program for sex workers says. With an HIV prevalence as high as 37 percent in 2006, female sex workers in Ghana had a big stake in preventing HIV infections, and knew what needed to be done to accomplish that, this article says.

HIV Prevention for Female Sex Workers Dramatically Reduces Sexually Transmitted Infections in India: This article covers a recently released study in BMJ Open showing programs aimed at female sex workers leading to steep declines in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in southern India, and quotes Dr. Peter Piot, noting the phenomenon that “even modest amounts of funding that reach the most at risk groups can yield big reductions in HIV and other infections.”

Coverage of Key Populations at the 2012 International AIDS Conference: At least 14 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general population, sex workers were the exclusive focus of just 5 percent of sessions at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., says this report from MSMGF, the Harm Reduction Coaltion, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects,GATE, INPUD, Different Avenues, and the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health. The report looks at similar gaps between impact and coverage of men who have sex with men, transgender people, and people who inject drugs.

Researcher targets better lives for sex-trade workers: Finally, in Canada, where — small world — that nation’s Supreme Court is weighing arguments about prostitution laws, a researcher is seeking to dispel myths and secure basic rights for people involved in sex work. “My bottom line is everyobody deserves health and safety,” she is quoted saying. She adds: “I think we need to put aside the moralizing a bit and see this is a reality.”  Reality, she says falls well between the “Pretty Woman” glamorization of sex work, and the stereotype of all sex workers as victims.

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