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AIDS preventive medicine available from December in Sonagachi

Kolkata,November 10: One of Asia's largest red light districts, Sonagachi will next month roll out an experimental project for providing HIV-preventive medicine to sex workers in what will be the first such initiative in the country.

The feasibility project recently received clearance from the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and Union Health Ministry and is likely to commence in December.

"We recently gave clearance to this project. It is a feasibility project. It is for the first time that such a project is being taken up in India," national programme officer at NACO, BB Rewari said.

Under the project, 'Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis' (PrEP), regular medicine would be given to an HIV-negative sex worker who engages sexually with an HIV-positive person, said a senior official of an NGO working for the welfare of sex workers.

The medicine is designed to prevent sex workers from HIV infection, said Samarjit Jana principal of the NGO, Sonagachi Research and Training Institute (SRTI).

"We have already started survey of HIV-positive and HIV- negative sex workers in Sonagachi. We hope the project will start from December this year," Jana said.

The project is to be financed by the Melinda Gates Foundation.

SRTI is an arm of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a forum of 1,30,000 sex-workers in West Bengal.

According to Protim Roy, a doctor associated with the project, an awareness drive for the campaign has already been taken up among the sex workers.

Jana said that the use of condoms and taking PrEP medicine everyday would offer double protection against HIV infection.

"We all know that use of condoms has brought down the prevalence of HIV, but often customers do not use condoms. In such cases and in cases of defective condoms, the virus can infect a person. This can be prevented by regular intake of such a medicine," he explained.

Rewari agreed that PrEP has the potential to bring down the HIV risk factor by 60-70 per cent among high-risk groups such as sex-workers. .

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