KARACHI: Karachi and Larkana have the highest prevalence of HIV in female sex workers (FSWs), according to the findings of a recent survey by the National AIDS Control Programme.
The survey says that 377 FSWs from Karachi and 375 from Larkana were tested for HIV, of whom seven each from the two cities (1.9 per cent) turned out to be positive. They were followed by Haripur (0.9 per cent), Sukkur (0.8 per cent), D.G. Khan (0.5 per cent), Sargodha and Multan (0.3 per cent).
No HIV cases were found in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Peshawar and Quetta.
The average prevalence of HIV in FSWs, however, was low. A total of 27 FSWs tested HIV positive for an overall weighted prevalence of 0.8 per cent.
The survey report said the highest number of FSWs was estimated in Karachi (25,399), closely followed by 23,766 in Lahore.
More than 56 per cent of the total FSW population of 89,178 in 15 major cities was mapped in Karachi and Lahore.
Across all cities, the average age of FSWs was 26.9 years. Overall, 12.3 per cent of FSWs were aged 15-19 years. They had been working as sex workers for an average of 5.3 years and those who worked in brothels involved in the trade at even younger age and worked longer (average 9.7 per cent) than other FSWs.
A majority of FSWs (63.7 per cent) were married, and a small proportion was either widowed (3.5 per cent) or divorced (eight per cent). A majority (85 per cent) of FSWs had children with 18.5 per cent reporting at least five children.
Illiteracy in the FSWs was witnessed as a major curse as 50.6 per cent of them were found illiterate, and most illiterate (64 per cent) were found in brothels. Only 23.5 per cent of them had a source of income other than sex work, with FSWs who solicit clients through cellphones being most likely to have other sources of income.
Their monthly average income reported was Rs16,000, but as they get older the income decreases.
Only 33 per cent of the FSWs reported that they always used contraceptives with their clients and most of them were brothel-based. Their number was the highest in Larkana (53 per cent), followed by Karachi (48 per cent). The lowest ratio was reported in Sukkur (five per cent).
About 80.4 per cent of the FSWs had heard of HIV and/or AIDS, with brothel-based sex workers reporting the highest level (91 per cent) of awareness. Some 94 per cent of them had heard of HIV and/or AIDS and knew that HIV could be transmitted by sexual intercourse, but fewer than one-third knew that HIV could be transmitted through injuries by sharp instruments or needles or syringes and only 13.4 per cent knew about mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Only 15.7 per cent of the FSWs had ever been tested for HIV and 22.5 per cent knew where HIV testing services were available.
With the exception of Larkana and Karachi, fewer than one-third of the FSWs were aware of services in their cities.