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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sex Workers in India Share AIDS Prevention Strategies

CALCUTTA, India -- A group of Pakistani prostitutes has been picking up tips in safe sex and "brothel management" in one of India's biggest red-light districts, health activists said.

Indian prostitutes have been showing their Pakistani peers around Calcutta's crowded, dirty Sonagachi district -- where around 6,000 sex workers ply their trade -- and have been telling them about an HIV/AIDS intervention program run by prostitutes.

"They inquired from us about our anti-AIDS program and our brothel management technique," said Mrinal Dutta, health activist and spokeswoman of the Sonagachi prostitutes' group called DMSC.

Sonagachi's HIV/AIDS control program has brought infection rates down to around five percent from around 90 percent a decade ago, partly by encouraging prostitutes to refuse sex without condoms.

"We are particularly impressed with DMSC's self-regulatory body, which prevents the entry of minors into sex trade and coercion methods," said Majid Rani, leader of the Pakistani prostitutes' team.

The visitors went around the dingy lanes of Sonagachi and entered several dark, dank one-room brothels to "check out work conditions."

"We have similar problems in the two countries. So, we tried to learn from each other's experience and share ideas," said Swapna Gayen, a former Indian prostitute and now a health worker.

Prostitution is officially banned in India and Pakistan but remains widespread, and authorities often turn a blind eye.

About 5.1 million people in India have HIV or AIDS, putting it only just behind South Africa as the world's worst affected.