OBJECTIVES: To compare indicators of sexual health and predictors of condom use for commercial sex among local and international female sex workers first attending an STD clinic. SETTING: A public STD clinic in Sydney, Australia. SUBJECTS: All sex workers first attending between June 1991 and May 1993. METHODS: Cross-sectional analysis of demographic, behavioural and morbidity data from proforma medical records. RESULTS: 91 local sex workers and 123 international sex workers (predominantly from Thailand, Malaysia and China) first presented during the study period. There were significantly higher prevalences of chlamydia (0 v. 15%, p = 0.0002), gonorrhoea (0 v. 14%, p = 0.0006), syphilis (0 v. 10%, p = 0.006) and clinical genital herpes (0 v. 5%, p = 0.04) among international sex workers. The only case of HIV infection was in an international sex worker. Inconsistent condom use for commercial sex was significantly more common among international sex workers (RR = 4.5; 95% CI 3.1-6.5). On multivariate analysis, inconsistent condom use in international sex workers was associated with a recent history of prostitution outside Australia (p = 0.04), while inconsistent condom usage among local sex workers was associated with increasing age (p = 0.003). CONCLUSIONS: These data illustrate the efficacy of condoms and the success of targeted education programmes in local sex workers in Sydney. By contrast, international sex workers continued to be at high risk of STDs. The international sex industry in Sydney requires enhanced culture-specific interventions. Immigration laws as they affect sex workers should also be reviewed.
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