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Risk-taking behaviours and HIV infection among sex workers in Portugal: results from a cross-sectional survey
  1. Sónia Dias1,
  2. Ana Gama1,
  3. Ricardo Fuertes2,
  4. Luís Mendão2,
  5. Henrique Barros3
  1. 1Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical & CMDT, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal
  2. 2GAT—Grupo Português de Activistas sobre o Tratamento de VIH/Sida Pedro Santos, Lisboa, Portugal
  3. 3Institute of Public Health of University of Porto, University of Porto Medical School, Porto, Portugal
  1. Correspondence to Professor Sónia Dias, Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical & CMDT, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Rua da Junqueira, 100, Lisboa 1349-008, Portugal; sfdias{at}, smfdias{at}


Objectives Sex workers (SW) are key populations at an increased risk of HIV infection. This study aimed to characterise risk-taking behaviours and assess HIV prevalence among SW in Portugal.

Methods A cross-sectional survey was conducted with 1040 SW using a participatory research approach. SW were recruited in sex-work locations and community-based organisation offices. Data were collected through a questionnaire with trained interviewers. An HIV rapid test was performed in 213 respondents.

Results Reported HIV prevalence was 8%: 17.6% of man-to-woman transgenders, 7.4% of women and 5% of men. Of SW reportedly living with HIV, 52.2% reported ever injecting drug use. Inconsistent condom use with clients in the last month was higher among male SW (26.5%) and with non-paying partners in the last year was higher among women (71.3%). Among reported HIV-positive SW, the proportions of inconsistent condom use were high. In multivariate regression analysis, reported HIV infection remained significantly higher among transgenders (OR 6.4; 95% CI 1.7 to 24.3), those older (OR 5.1; 95% CI 1.3 to 21.1), working outdoors (OR 5.4; 95% CI 1.9 to 15.6), having ever used psychoactive substances (OR 4.1; 95% CI 2.2 to 7.7) and earning ≤€1000 per month (OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.2 to 5.9). Of those who had an HIV rapid test, 8.9% were reactive; 73.7% were unaware of their seropositivity.

Conclusions The HIV infection burden in SW is high. Efforts to promote HIV testing must be sustained in order to reduce undiagnosed infection. The diverse risk profiles of SW must be addressed in targeted HIV interventions. Prevention interventions should be systematically implemented within most-at-risk subgroups of SW.

  • HIV

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