Legalizing Prostitution Could Lower the Spread of HIV By One-Third

Here's a crazy thought; legalizing prostitution could reduce the number of international HIV infections for female sex workers by at least a third in several countries. Health experts presented this new research drawn from Canada, India and Kenya during the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday.

Over at the Washington Post, writer Caelainn Hogan reports that Lancet researchers predict infections could dwindle by 33-46 percent in those countries if the laws around sex work were changed. It is the oldest profession and now it’s also an easy way to transmit a global pandemic. Perhaps those in charge should look at this AIDS/HIV problem with fresh eyes because current practices aren't working out so well.

“Across all settings, decriminalization of sex work could have the largest impact on the HIV epidemic among sex workers over just 10 years,” said Kate Shannon, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the study. “Governments and policymakers can no longer ignore the evidence.”

According to the World Health Organization, the following five groups are the most high-risk and account for half of the new HIV cases around the world: men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users, transgender people, prisoners, and sex workers. But female sex workers are 14 times more likely to contract HIV as other women and transgender women are nearly 50 times more likely to have HIV as other adults in general.

Shannon’s research found that violence, police harassment — we’ve written about the NYPD viewing women carrying condoms as evidence of sex work before — and deplorable working conditions in conjunction with lack of prevention and healthcare also increase the risk of sex workers contracting HIV. Women often don't want to risk identifying themselves as sex workers by visiting health clinics or getting tested for HIV for fear of arrest or losing their kids to social services. This means that they would miss out on strides like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a health strategy that encourages HIV-negative people to take a pill called Truvada which, when used effectively and under a physician's care, can drastically reduce a person's ability to contract HIV. This drug is usually aimed at men who have sex with men but New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced his plan to roll out the process across New York so there's a ray of hope.

Still, criminalizing sex work leads to a laundry list of unforeseen ramifications which could be avoided if society realistically acknowledged that sex happens, people pay for it and it’d be great if they could do so in a safe, healthy way that didn’t lend itself to a study like Shannon’s. The study also notes that cops were physically confiscating women’s condoms and destroying them, which is like anti-abortion activists who oppose birth control — guys, it just doesn’t make sense.

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