Drop in STI Rate Not Enough: Health Officials

The prevalence rate of sexually transmitted infections among sex workers has decreased 8 percent from levels six years ago, according to a study released Tues­day by the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STI.

Health officials expressed concern that the rate had not de­creased further.

The survey, which included more than 1,000 female sex workers in eight provinces, found that nearly 53 percent reported having had a sex-related infection—like syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia-during the past year, and that 24 percent of those interviewed had an STI at the time.

In 2000, 32 percent of sex workers interviewed said they were suffering from an STI.

“Despite years of targeted intervention with sex workers, nearly half of the women surveyed feel they have a low risk of contracting an STI. Why is this perception so widely held?” Dr Francois Crabbe, a technical advisor to NCHADS, asked at a conference to discuss the findings.

The survey did not include HIV prevalence figures, as an HIV-specific survey is being conducted separately in more provinces, re­search­ers said.

While most female respondents in the survey sought treatment for their infections, nearly half of the women continued having sex after the onset of an STI.

The survey also found that most female sex workers saw three clients a day and used condoms 80 percent of that time. However, in casual and romantic relationships, female sex workers reported that condom use dropped dramatically, to between 25 and 34 percent.

Heng Sopheab, one of NCHADS’ principal investigators, said the continuing high STI level could be due to health officals beginning to rely on lab results instead of only visible symptoms, which aren’t always present in infected women.

One person familiar with the survey said on condition of anonymity that the results were disheartening and that health programs directed towards sex workers were not effective.

The survey also found that 3 percent of Cambodian police surveyed said they had an STI.

NCHADS on Tuesday also re­leased findings about men who have sex with other men, either sex workers or otherwise, in Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap provinces.

The survey of more than 500 men found consistent condom use was low compared to female sex workers and that STI prevalence ranged anywhere from 5 to 14 percent.

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