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India's Successful AIDS Prevention Program Threatened by Proliferation of Mobile Phones

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, November 27 2012

Inexpensive mobile phones have brought independence to India's sex workers. Rather than work in brothels, where the madam takes a cut of their fee, they can now deal directly with their customers. But this financial freedom comes with a prices — a steep rise in HIV and AIDS rates. The New York Times reports the story:

Cellphones, those tiny gateways to modernity, have recently allowed prostitutes to shed the shackles of brothel madams and strike out on their own. But that independence has made prostitutes far harder for government and safe-sex counselors to trace. And without the advice and free condoms those counselors provide, prostitutes and their customers are returning to dangerous ways.

Studies show that prostitutes who rely on cellphones are more susceptible to H.I.V. because they are far less likely than their brothel-based peers to require their clients to wear condoms.

India was, until this development, a surprising success story in the fight against AIDS. A national prevention program that was funded by the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sent trained counselors to red light districts, where they distributed condoms and trained prostitutes in safe sex practices. But now the brothels are closing down and the sex workers, armed with their mobile phones, are no longer concentrated in one place.

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