Red Light District Crackdown ‘Risks Spreading AIDS’

Bali health officials are concerned that the recent closure of red light district in Tabanan may have increased the spread of HIV-AIDS as displaced sex workers spread out amongst local villages and work beneath the radar of anti-AIDS NGOs and government agencies.

A long-standing semi-official tolerance zone around the main Tabanan bus station was recently shut down by the regency authorities. At least seven of the prostitutes working there were HIV-positive, according to members of the Bali Health Foundation (Yakeba) NGO. They have now disappeared.

“There were under our supervision. They have gone off and we don’t know where they are now,” said Desak Sukarmiasih of Yakeba, adding that without supervision the women were less likely to use condoms with clients.

With prostitutes now likely working freelance and mobile in local communities, rather than based in one place, it was almost impossible for NGOs to reach them for health checks and sex education, she said.

Around 70 sex workers were based in the area around the bus terminal until they were evicted by police in April, after an order the regency government.

Ni Luh Gede Yuliani, who runs the Tabanan HIV/AIDS Commission, said that the regency administration’s approach to prostitution and its attempts to eradicate red light districts was at odds with the commission’s work to educate prostitutes and their clients.

“The program is not in sync with the administration’s policy to crack down on red-light districts,” she said.

Meanwhile, Cyntia Sulaimin, head of disease prevention at Bali Health Department, said that lack of awareness amongst young people remained a key problem in tackling the spread of HIV, and that past prevention programs had not been successful.

“We are still conducting studies and surveys to identify the problems,” the doctor said.

An estimated 4500 people in Bali have HIV-AIDS.

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