United Kingdom: Cuts Raise Fears for Prostitutes' Health: Edinburgh Support Group Loses Vital Funding

One of Scotland's oldest support groups for sex workers will be forced to cut services at the end of March after losing key financial support, officials said. National Health Service (NHS) Lothian cut funding to the group, Scottish Prostitutes Education Project (Scot-Pep), by two-thirds to £50,000 (US $72,687).

Scot-Pep, which has operated for more than 20 years, said the cut would require ending a drop-in support service offered three nights a week, safe sex advice, free condom distribution, and safety information.

NHS Lothian said the cut was based on government guidelines that stipulate HIV prevention funding should be allocated to those most at risk: men who have sex with men. "The risk profile for contracting HIV has completely changed in the last 10 years," said Stephen Fraser, an NHS Lothian spokesperson. "It used to be the case that the main source of infection was drug-abusing individuals using needles, and sex workers were obviously involved in that particular risk factor."

"We accept female sex workers are not the highest-risk group, and we agree gay men are the most at risk," said Jinty Kerr of Scot-Pep. "However, there is still hepatitis C, gonorrhea, syphilis, and a range of other diseases that women working in the sex industry can contract. We are worried there will be a return of the spread of the most serious health problems among the sex-working community."

The independent member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh, Margo MacDonald, said Scot-Pep was likely a victim of its own success, now that sex workers probably have fewer HIV infections than the general population.