June 23, 2005
In the Sonagachi district of Calcutta, where about 6,000 sex workers are active, Indian prostitutes have been giving Pakistani prostitutes tips on safe sex and brothel management, health workers said. The peer educators are part of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a Sonagachi HIV/AIDS intervention program run by prostitutes.
The HIV/AIDS program has brought infection rates down to around 5 percent, compared to about 90 percent a decade ago, partly by encouraging prostitutes to refuse sex without condoms. DMSC's success prompted the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to use the program as a model for a $200 million project in six Indian cities.
"We are particularly impressed with DMSC's self-regulatory body which prevents the entry of minors into sex trade and coercion methods," said Majid Rani, the leader of the Pakistani prostitutes' team.
Although officially banned in India and Pakistan, prostitution is widespread and authorities often turn a blind eye. In India, the state runs HIV/AIDS campaigns through groups like DMSC.