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The World

Asia sex workers vulnerable to HIV

The U.N. says human trafficking, especially for prostitution, could cause AIDS pandemic.

August 23, 2007|From the Associated Press

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Tens of thousands of women forced to work as sex slaves in Asia are deeply vulnerable to contracting HIV and spreading the deadly virus across the continent, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

If nothing is done to stop human trafficking in the region, "there is just going to be an explosion" of infections, said Caitlin Wiesen of the United Nations Development Program.

The report, "Human Trafficking and HIV," was released at a conference here on HIV in Asia and the Pacific. It focuses on the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people from South Asia forced into labor annually, usually as prostitutes. They account for half of those trafficked in Asia.

Though there are few reliable figures on HIV infection rates among those trafficked, one study estimated that a quarter of trafficked women in the Indian metropolis Mumbai, formerly Bombay, are HIV-positive, Wiesen said. Another showed that 60% to 70% of 218 sex workers from Nepal who were rescued in a raid in Mumbai were infected.

The report, which looked at South Asia, recommends that governments work to unite their anti-trafficking and HIV prevention efforts. It also calls for a renewed focus on gender inequality, violence against women, poverty and education, which make women vulnerable to both trafficking and HIV infection.

About 5.4 million people in the region have the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. Many health professionals expressed concerns that a pandemic similar to that in Africa could hit Asia if preventive measures are not taken.

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