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news | March 08, 2011 | Cambodia | Development

HIV prevention: on-the-go

A sex worker receives treatment for her STI.

The sign on the front of the building indicates massage, but the lines between a one-hour massage and the sex industry begin to blur within. As of 2010, around 22,000 women in Phnom Penh were employed both directly and indirectly in the sex industry. As this number has continued to grow, so have the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the threat of HIV.

ACTED-PSF mobile medical team prepares to examine karaoke girls and distribute condoms and other prevention materials at a partnering entertainment establishment.ACTED-PSF and other international organizations have achieved great successes over the last decade in controlling HIV transmission rates in Cambodia. However, women from a rural environment migrating to cities in search of jobs, and the appeal of higher wages in entertainment work, translate into rising numbers of women entering the entertainment industry.

Entertainment establishments may be karaoke bars, beer gardens and massage parlors, which often serve as a launching pad for sex transactions. The growth of the industry, coupled with a lack of proper public sex education and lack of awareness about the accessibility to health services, pose a real threat for the future. STI prevalence remains as high as 27 % among entertainment workers, and the country faces increasing concerns over its battle against the spread of HIV. If proper prevention mechanisms do not remain in place, the HIV epidemic could once again flare in Cambodia.

Providing education and consultation

ACTED-PSF outreach worker promote condom use to entertainment workers.An entertainment worker explains the value of ACTED-PSF services during a mobile visit to a Phnom Penh karaoke bar: “If the visits were in danger of being discontinued that would be terrible news. The consultations are very important for my friends and I. We are thankful for the condoms distributed and when I faced a problem with an STI, ACTED–PSF provided me with a consultation, diagnosed me and gave me medication which helped me get better. I was even referred to another clinic for VCCT (Voluntary and Confidential Counseling and Testing) where I was tested for HIV.” Simple but essential information can make a positive impact in the lives of these vulnerable women.

ACTED-PSF works through mobile intervention teams, comprised of medical staff and outreach workers to provide regular education, counseling and on site examinations to entertainment workers in Phnom Penh. (STI treatment is internationally recognized for its role in HIV prevention). In order to reach these vulnerable women, the outreach teams establish relationships with owners of the entertainment establishments and begin to make regular site visits. Outreach workers have stepped in to fill an information void amongst vulnerable young women who often enter the entertainment industry with no prior knowledge of the risks of the trade or ways to protect themselves against them. ACTED-PSF works this way with over 250 establishments throughout the city.