Objectives: To measure prevalence of selected sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV among female sex workers (SWs) in the red light area of Surat, India, and to evaluate the performance of STI syndrome guidelines (for general population women in India) in this group against the standard aetiological diagnosis of STIs by laboratory methods.
Methods: In a cross sectional study, 124 out of an estimated total of 500 SWs were mobilised to a health camp near the red light area during 2000. After obtaining consent, a behavioural questionnaire was administered, followed by clinical examination and specimen collection for different STIs. 118 SWs completed all aspects of the survey. HIV testing was unlinked and anonymous.
Results: The mean number of different sexual partners of SWs per day was five. 94.9% reported consistent condom use with the clients. 58.5% of SWs had no symptoms related to STDs at the time of examination. Reported symptoms included lower abdominal pain (19.5%), abnormal vaginal discharge (12.7%), painful sexual intercourse (12.7%), painful micturition (11.0%), itching around the genital area (10.2%), and genital ulcer (5.9%). The prevalence of STI “syndromes” were vaginal discharge syndrome 51.7%, pain in lower abdomen 19.5%, enlarged inguinal lymph nodes 11.9%, and genital ulcer 5.9%. Based on the laboratory reports (excluding HIV tests), 62 (52.5%) SWs did not have any of the four tested STIs. Prevalence of laboratory confirmed STIs were syphilis 22.7% (based on reactive syphilis serology tests), gonorrhoea 16.9%, genital chlamydial infection 8.5%, and trichomoniasis 14.4%. HIV prevalence was 43.2%. The performance of Indian recommended treatment guidelines for vaginal discharge syndrome (VDS) and genital ulcer syndrome (GUS) against aetiological diagnosis was poor.
Conclusion: Prevalence of different STIs and HIV among the FSWs in the Surat red light area is high despite high reported condom use with clients. Syndromic case management is missing a large number of asymptomatic cases and providing treatment in the absence of disease. Therefore, it is necessary to explore alternative strategies for control of STIs in female sex workers. STI services need to be improved.
- STI prevalence
- syndromic diagnosis
- sex workers
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