Efforts to prevent HIV usually consist of proative interventions - but when it comes to sex workers, leaving them alone may be the best prescription of all. A study presented by researchers at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne this week determined that decriminalizing sex work would have "the greatest effect on the course of HIV epidemics" across the world.
Female sex workers in low- and middle-income countries are more than 13 times as likely to contract HIV than women outside the industry, and are at high risk of transmitting the virus to others. In order to lower HIV rates worldwide, researchers at the conference argued, countries should make improving the circumstances of sex workers a top priority.
The study, which was published by the British medical journal The Lancet as the first in a series partly funded by the United Nations Population Fund, found that criminalization makes sex workers more likely to be beleagured or abused by police and less likely to use condoms or seek treatment for HIV and other diseases.