Researchers Threaten to Bypass Sex Union

Leaders of a sex workers union, opposing a clinical trial of a drug that may prevent HIV contraction, said Thursday they believe their group may be bypassed by researchers who are recruiting participants for the study’s start within two months.

“If we do not agree, they will go to meet directly with the girls [sex workers] and not talk to us,” claimed Sou Sothea Vy, a 64-year-old transgendered Women’s Net­work for Unity representative.

Four other sex workers, who attended a private meeting on Thursday with the representatives of the study, also said researchers told them they would find participants elsewhere if the union of 3,000 members did not support the study.

The $1 million study is funded by the US National Institute of Health and computer tycoon Bill Gates’ aid foundation. It will operate through the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Kimberly Page Shafer, primary researcher for the study, would not comment on the union’s claim they would be bypassed on Thursday. Repeated calls to other researchers went unanswered.

The trial involving 960 female sex workers will test whether tenofovir, a drug already used as a life-extending AIDS drug and manufactured by the US pharmaceutical Gilead Sciences Inc, can prevent HIV contraction.

Sou Sothea Vy said research­ers tried with “sweet words” to garner the union’s support Thurs­day, but the union would not rescind their demands made at a press conference Monday for 20 to 30 years of medical insurance coverage against the possibility of harm inflicted by the drug.

Sex workers are now asking for $10 compensation, in­stead of $3, for every month they participate in the study, Sou Sothea Vy said.

After the meeting Thursday, a Toul Kok district sex worker Soma Younorng, 35, said re­search­ers tested the drug on monkeys.

“Why do they need to test the drugs on sex workers in Cam­bodia? Does it mean that our lives are so cheap—not even as valuable as a monkey’s?” she said.

The researchers paid each of the sex workers $5 for their attendance and “to take motos,” said Ngay Srah, 23, a sex worker.


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