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The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of the world’s most serious public health and social problems. In the past decade China has experienced a rapid increase in HIV/AIDS cases; the number of Chinese people living with HIV has continued to raise despite the availability of effective prevention strategies. At the end of October 2009, the cumulative reported HIV-infected patients, including those who had progressed to AIDS, stood at 319877. More alarming statistics came from the Chinese government, who along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimated that closer to 740000 people are infected with HIV in China, including 105000 individuals suffering from AIDS. This past year, new cases of HIV infection in China numbered at about 48,000.
Four major factors have been identified as significant contributors to the HIV/AIDs epidemic among the general population of China. The first is drug abuse; intravenous drug use and needle sharing is a well-established risk factor for the spread of HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the practice of illicit drug usage lends to uninhibited and uncontrolled behaviors conducive to HIV transmission through sexual contact. The second factor is the so-called ‘floating population’- the approximately 150 million migrant workers in China. As much as 73% of migrants originate from poorer regions of the country and come to work in the cities as laborers, restaurant workers and sex workers. This portion of the population have been considered as the ‘tipping point’ for the current HIV/STDs epidemic. It was suggested that rural-to-urban migration may play a crucial role in shifting the HIV/STI epidemic by broadening social and sexual mixing. The third factor is unprotected and high-risk sexual activity, including that by sex workers, the male homosexual population and individuals having multiple sex partners. The fourth factor is the lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, which can be subdivided into two components: the lack of simple knowledge of HIV/AIDS and discriminatory attitude which will induces anti-social behavior.
Heterosexual contact is now considered the most common mode of transmission of HIV infection in China. The latest assessment report indicates that heterosexual transmission accounted for 42.2% of China’s newly-infected cases of HIV diagnosed in 2009. In Shanghai, 886 new HIV infections were reported in 2009; all patients were under the age of 45 and 63.7% of them were infected through a sexual transmission route. Female sex workers are considered a significant contributor to the heterosexual transmission rates of HIV since their unprotected anonymized sexual activities act as a “bridge” to spread HIV/AIDs to the general population.
The commercial sex trade has a long and complex history in China, as has been greatly influenced by the political and economic changes experienced by the Chinese republic during the 20th century. During the past 25 years, China’s open door policy and economic reforms have been accompanied by a remarkable resurgence in the commercial sex sector. Indeed, the Chinese National Sentinel Surveillance System concluded that sexual transmission was the most common route of new HIV infections in 2007 to 2009. Female sex workers represent an important reservoir of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. For example, studies have shown that 20% to 48.8% of the female sex workers examined were carrying more than one kind of STD, the most common of which was gonorrhea. However, the rates of HIV were found to be generally lower than for the other types of STDs detected. In China, providing commercial sexual services is illegal and most sex workers operate in karaoke bars, massage parlors, saunas, hair and beauty salons, while some solicit clients from the street or in parks.
In many cases, these female sex workers are simply unaware of the risk of HIV/AIDS, since most of them are young girls with limited education who have migrated from poor rural areas to towns or cities. The prevalence of STDs and HIV in FSWs suggests a critical need for prevention efforts and health education. Here, we conducted a cross-sectional study to evaluate the HIV/AIDS-related knowledge, attitude and behaviors among female sex workers in Shanghai. The information gathered from this study will contribute to future construction and institution of effective strategies towards HIV/AIDS prevention among this particular population.
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