At the 4th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific yesterday, a group of prostitutes said that if men would wear condoms, the spread of AIDS could be slowed.
The sex workers told the conference in Manila that AIDS was not spread by prostitution, but by unsafe working conditions. "You need at least 20 minutes to negotiate condom use," said Khantini Slahnaih, a male prostitute from Malaysia. He said that sex workers often were forced into their jobs by poverty. "There are a lot of people thinking we like to sell our bodies. It's not true." Slahnaih also demanded that authorities end their harassment of prostitutes, including rape, assault, extortion and other humiliations. The sex workers also spoke out against Taipei's recent criminalization of prostitution, and said they were ordinary people who needed medical coverage and other job benefits.
A government study released in New Delhi on Sunday showed that only 3% of Indian men use condoms. The Indian Health Organisation estimates that a quarter of a million Indians have AIDS, and another 5 million have HIV.
Other experts said that, despite governmental promotion, condom use is still low. In Bangladesh, only 4.4% of men use condoms despite three decades of government promotion. In New Guinea, less than one-third of stores sell condoms, and more than half of those sell condoms that have passed their expiration date. An officer for UN AIDS in Vietnam said that prostitutes were unlikely to use condoms, in hopes of getting bigger tips, or because they couldn't afford them.
At the conference on Sunday, experts stated that the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS was being opposed in many Asian countries. Paula Kelly, an AIDS coordinator for CARE in Vietnam, said that "programs telling women to insist on condoms are a waste of time and money" because "insistence on condom use can easily be the precursor of violence" by men against women. Religious groups also posed problems, said Peter Piot of the U.N Program on AIDS. Before the conference, the Catholic church in Manila issued statements against using condoms to stop AIDS. "I don't expect the Catholic church to actively promote condoms (as long as) it doesn't object to them. I expect them not to be an obstacle," said Piot.
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