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Bar girls more at risk than prostitutes

Bar girls more at risk than prostitutes

BATTAMBANG - Dancing girls at bars are believed to be at greater risk of

catching and transmitting the HIV virus than brothel prostitutes who are better

educated about condom use, according to a provincial anti-AIDS chief.

Iem

Sakhan, head of the Battambang AIDS Secretariat, said education campaigns had

been successful in getting many brothels to stock condoms for their

staff.

But it was proving harder to spread the message in bars with

dancing girls.

"I ask a bar owner to talk to the dancing girls for five

minutes but they reject that because it affects their business," he

said.

Officials had begun educating prostitutes in brothels about the

facts of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases in February 1992, and

asking them to pass on the information to their friends.

"After our

education campaign, we've noticed brothels constantly have condoms available. We

neither close nor open brothels; we control them."

Many bar girls,

however, had yet to get the message about condoms. They only worked at night,

often changed their employment from bar to bar, and their bosses did not want to

cooperate with AIDS education attempts.  One side effect noticed by Battambang

officials was a noticeable drop in the number of brothel staff having abortions,

while the rate of bar girls doing so remained about the same.

Dr Tea

Phala, the National Program Manager of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for AIDS

and STD Prevention and Control, said the problem was a national one.

Many

bar girls were taken by customers to hotels or guest houses after dancing to

spend the night with them. The women were often not aware of the need to use

condoms or could not convince the men to use them, he said.

Bar girls

often had long relationships with customers, who even became their boyfriends,

in which condoms were not considered necessary.

Dr Phala said about 7000

people in Cambodia were estimated to be HIV-positive.

Blood tests

conducted on a sample of sex workers - both in bars and brothels - in

Battambang, Siem Reap and Banteay Mean Chey provinces late last year found an

average HIV infection rate of more than 60 per cent.

A July study of

Sihanoukville prostitutes found 39 per cent were HIV positive The last study

done in Phnom Penh, in 1992, found a 9 per cent infection rate.

In

Battambang - where 52 per cent of 250 sex workers tested late last year were

HIV-positive - Sakhan said poverty and unemployment were the main factors behind

an increase in sex workers.

Women from other provinces were coming to

Battambang to work as prostitutes, returning home occasionally with money for

their families, who did not know how they had earned it.

Sakhan said the

spread of HIV had increased suddenly with the opening of Cambodia's borders

several years ago. He believed Thai people traveling to Cambodia had been a

significant source of the disease.

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