A study on health aspects of Female Sex Workers (FSW), including those who fell prey to HIV/AIDS, in Hyderabad has thrown up findings that reinforce the presence of long held prejudices among health care workers towards them. Stigma, discriminatory environment within government and private hospitals, attitude of nurses, doctors and other staff are some of the common complaints shared by FSWs in the study.

The study, which tries to chronicle the sexual reproductive health needs of FSWs, says that awareness among FSWs on abortion services in hospitals is limited. Some of the other challenges, include lack of rest rooms, stringent procedures, complex formalities and high charges in private hospitals to access health care services, including medical termination of pregnancy.

Taken up by Integrated Rural Development Services (IRDS) and Mahila Abhivrudhi Sangam (MAS) in association with Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), the study was conducted between January and April, 2014 and covered 525 FSWs in Hyderabad.

According to the report, overall, there are 29,000 FSWs in the city covered under the government’s HIV prevention programme.

“All of them had good knowledge about ailments such as HIV and breast cancer. They are, however, unaware that they are at risk for cervical cancer. Half of them were ignorant and unsure about menstrual hygiene. There is a need to take up institutional supply of pads, which are very costly and FSWs find it hard to afford,” says Director, IRDS, Sukumar David.

Participants of the study pointed out the need for exclusive family planning services for HIV positive members of their ilk. “Even awareness on family planning among them is limited. Majority of FSWs are dependant on temporary measures such as condoms and oral pills and do not have much access to permanent family planning measures,” Mr. Sukumar David said.

The initiative has also thrown up the issue of lack of awareness among FSWs on basic health rights like right to choose healthcare and right to confidentiality and privacy, etc. Due to their occupation, social marginalisation and limited awareness on health rights, FSWs shy away from accessing their health needs, the study said. “Negative attitudes of service providers, stigmatic and discriminatory environment in the facilities are barriers for accessing health services”.

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