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Social Perceptions of Protection against HIV Infection among Female Street Prostitutes

*Saeedeh MOAYEDI-NIA 1, Mohsen NASERIRAD 2, Banafshe MORADMAND BADIE 1, Asiye GHORBANI 1, Minoo MOHRAZ 1

Iranian Journal of Public Health 2014. 43(2):258-260.

1.       Iranian Research Center for HIV/AIDS, Iranian Institute for Reduction of High-Risk Behaviors , Tehran University of  Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran
2.       Dept. of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

(Received 10 Jan 2014; accepted 25 Jan 2014)

Dear Editor-in-Chief

Prostitution (sex work) is one of the oldest and the most dramatic tragedies of human history (1). Street prostitution is the most visible form of prosti­tution (2). In many countries female street prostitutes are among the highest at risk groups of HIV infection (3). They have been cited as being particularly vulnerable to STD (including HIV) infection as they lack access to economic re­sources and as such may end up having to choose between economic survival and possible HIV infec­tion (4). This group is at risk due to having multiple sexual partners, frequent sexual inter­course (5), high risk sexual behaviors. It has been established by social scientists that judgmental biases affect risk perception by lay people and that systematic differences exist between individuals and groups in the way people perceive risks and adopt strategies to avoid risks and minimize their own vulnerability (6). Iran is one of the countries confronted with an HIV/AIDS epidemic. In re­cent years, has been some evidence of the growing role of sexual transmission in the spread of HIV (7). In Iran data from a number of scattered stud­ies indicated the HIV prevalence, condom use and HIV/AIDS preventions perceptions among fe­male street prostitutes. Although considerable atten­tion has been placed on the role of prosti­tutes in the AIDS epidemic, little attention has been directed to features of prostitutes’ work lives which are relevant to the control of AIDS (8). In the case to promote knowledge, motivations and choices -in purpose of changing behaviors among one of at risk group like FSPs – it is essential to understand social perceptions and misperceptions toward HIV/AIDS. This study tried to find out about the FSPs’ perception toward HIV infection as an important part of any changing behavior programs.

Our qualitative study explores the social percep­tions of a small convenience sample of Iranian female street prostitutes. We conducted semi-struc­tured, in-depth Persian-language interviews with 15 Iranian female street prostitutes between July 2011 and September 2011.

All of the participants mentioned using condoms during sex with clients and/or the husband is the prevention method. Almost all FSPs indicated that avoiding shared needle can prevent HIV transmis­sion. Almost half of the sample suggested that avoiding kissing especially kisses that cause bleed­ing and avoiding shared stuffs such as blades, comb, nail clipper and toothbrush are kinds of HIV preventions. Avoid anal sex, avoid oral sex, knowing HIV positive persons, being careful about condom breaking, avoiding breastfeeding in case of HIV positive mother with HIV negative infant, washing genital areas of the body with disin­fectant fluid before having sex and care about personal hygiene  are other HIV prevention which participants suggested. The participants perceive that washing vaginal parts of body with soap and disinfectant fluids such as Savlon and Povidone-iodine, Taking tablets which clean body from mi­crobes (probably antibiotic) and Visit physician and using prescribed HIV drugs can protect them against HIV/AIDS transmission. Some of partici­pants did not mention using any protective meth­ods against HIV transmission after having sex with­out condom and just one person stated using HIV drugs after having sex for protecting against HIV.

Public health consequences of delivering poor health care to FSPs are generally severely undere-sti­mated, particularly in societies, where prostit-ution is illegal (9). Participants in this study suggested in a condition that they sell sex for money, if a client asked for not using condom they might accept unless their earning will de­crease.

The findings of this study suggest that FSPs in Iran are at high risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. It is evident from our findings that although FSPs had a proper perception about HIV/AIDS be­cause of some misunderstanding and misconcep­tions that this research found, revision in the con­tent and quality of HIV/AIDS related educational information are necessary.

The only practical way to reduce new STD/HIV infections is to promote the use of condoms. This can be done by exploring obstacles of condom use based on the answers that FSPs provided for this research and developing solutions for better promoting condom use among this high risk group.

It was found that client’s beliefs affect whether or not a street prostitutes uses a condom. In fact, clients play an important role in the prevalence of condom use and as a result they are part of HIV transmission chain. Consequently, due to im­portant role of clients, it can be suggested that assessing HIV/AIDS perceptions of female street prostitutes’ clients in Iran is the first step in under­standing one of HIV epidemic in Iran. Moreo­ver, identifying and studying client’s beliefs may help to understand some of the main reasons for lack of condom use which eventually affects the HIV/AIDS protection and prevention cycle.

While the economic problems are being addressed in developing countries such as Iran, the threat of AIDS epidemics necessitates a comprehensive and multilevel strategy that includes clinical and screen­ing strategies for the short term along with establishment of education and behavior change programs in the medium term, and ultimately changes in social norms with greater empower­ment of FSPs for not only ensuring prevention of the disease but promoting their own health. Fur­ther research is needed to better understand FSPs followed by well-organized, culture specific HIV/AIDS programs based on their needs.


The authors declare that they do not have any kind of conflict of interest




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