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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 134  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 470-475

Prevalence of & knowledge, attitude & practices towards HIV & sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among female sex workers (FSWs) in Andhra Pradesh

1 National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR), Hyderabad, India
2 Family Health International, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission21-Jan-2010
Date of Web Publication15-Nov-2011

Correspondence Address:
R Hemalatha
Scientist "E", National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR), Jamai Osmania (PO), Hyderabad 500 604
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 22089609

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Background & objectives : As part of the baseline survey carried out during 2005-06, biological and behavioural data were generated on about 3200 female sex workers (FSWs), from eight districts of Andhra Pradesh (AP), India. This study describes the relationship between socio-demographic and behavioural factors with consistent condom use (CCU) and HIV among FSWs in AP.
Methods: A cross-sectional community-based study was conducted among female sex workers (FSW) in eight districts of Andhra Pradesh, India, using conventional cluster sampling and time-location cluster sampling. Key risk behaviours and STIs related to the spread of HIV were assessed. Blood samples were collected to detect syphilis, Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) Chlamydia trachomatis (CT), Neiserria gonorrhoeae (NG) and HIV serology.
Results: About 70 per cent of the FSWs were illiterates, nearly 50 per cent were currently married and 41 per cent of the FSWs had sex work as the sole source of income. More than 95 per cent of the FSWs heard of HIV, but about 99 per cent believed that HIV/AIDS cannot be prevented. Logistic regression analysis showed significantly lesser CCU with high client volume, not carrying condom and could not use condom in past 1 month due to various reasons such as non co-operation by the clients. Similarly, CCU was significantly (P<0.001) lesser (only 8.9%) with regular non-commercial partners. Overall there was 16.3 per cent prevalence of HIV amongst FSWs. C. trachomatis and N. gonorrheae were prevalent in 3.4 and 2 per cent of the FSWs, respectively and about 70 per cent of the FSWs were positive for HSV2 serology. HIV was significantly associated with STIs.
Interpretation & conclusions: Misconception that HIV/AIDS cannot be prevented is very high. Most of the subjects in the present study had first sexual debut at a very young age. HIV was associated with STIs, emphasizing aggressive STI diagnosis and treatment. CCU must be emphasized right from first sexual debut with all clients and non-commercial partners as well.

Keywords: Condom - FSW - HIV - knowledge - STI

How to cite this article:
Hemalatha R, Kumar R H, Venkaiah K, Srinivasan K, Brahmam G. Prevalence of & knowledge, attitude & practices towards HIV & sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among female sex workers (FSWs) in Andhra Pradesh. Indian J Med Res 2011;134:470-5

How to cite this URL:
Hemalatha R, Kumar R H, Venkaiah K, Srinivasan K, Brahmam G. Prevalence of & knowledge, attitude & practices towards HIV & sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among female sex workers (FSWs) in Andhra Pradesh. Indian J Med Res [serial online] 2011 [cited 2020 May 30];134:470-5. Available from:

The prevalence of HIV infection in India has been steadily increasing over the past few decades [1],[2] . Commercial sex workers and their clients are at highest risk for HIV infection and transmission [2],[3] . Certain States in India viz. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Nagaland and Manipur have been reported to have high number of HIV infected population in India [1] . According to the data available from National Family Health Survey, 2006 [4] , 2.5 million people in India are infected with HIV.

India AIDS initiative, a large scale HIV prevention intervention programme, supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been under implementation in six high prevalence States of India, since 2003. This HIV prevention programme targets FSWs, men who have sex with men (MSM), clients of sex workers and injection drug users in 83 districts of the six high prevalence States and the national highways in India. Andhra Pradesh is one of these, with eight of its districts highly populated with high risk groups [1] . The strategies employed to address HIV prevention among sex workers and their clients include promotion of safer sex behaviour, with particular focus on promotion of condom use; enhancing the enabling environment for the adoption of safer sex practices, with distribution and social marketing of condoms; and enhanced sexually transmitted infection management. District level cross-sectional surveys assessing behavioural and biological endpoints are an integral part of the programme strategies. During 2005-2006, biological data (human immuno deficiency virus, Chlamydia trachomatis, Neiserria gonorrhoeae, syphilis and Herpes Simplex virus type 2) and behavioural data (knowledge, attitude and practices towards HIV and STIs) were collected on about 3200 FSWs, from eight districts of AP. The present study describes the perceptions of risk related to HIV and STIs, and also explore the relationships of knowledge, attitude and practices with HIV and consistent condom use (CCU) among FSWs in Andhra Pradesh.

   Material & Methods Top

The study was conducted during December 2005 to October 2006. For all the districts (Guntur, E. Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Prakasham, Chittoor, Warangal, Karimnagar and Hyderabad), a two-stage cluster sampling design was adopted. The Scientific Advisory Committees and Institutional Ethics Committee approved the study. The districts were chosen based on two key-criteria: socio-cultural regions and size of the FSW population. The locations where FSWs frequented were identified by mapping entire districts. Brothel-based or non-brothel based such as public places like parks, streets, cinema halls, bus stands, railway stations, etc. where FSWs solicit clients were considered. Written consent was obtained from all the subjects (FSWs) before collecting data and biological samples. Care was taken to maintain confidentiality of the study subjects.

The sample size of 400 per district was arrived at based on key risk behaviour of condom use, with an estimated absolute difference of 15 per cent or more from the assumed value of 50 per cent with 95 per cent confidence interval. Details of the study design have been described elsewhere [5] . Key risk behaviours and STIs related to the spread of HIV were assessed. For the behavioural assessment, face-to-face interviews using structured questionnaires were used. The questionnaire covered number and types of sexual partners, condom use with different types of partners, knowledge of STIs and STI care-seeking behaviours, knowledge and attitudes toward HIV/AIDS, and perception of HIV and STI risk was assessed based on questions such as ever heard of HIV, misconceptions about HIV, ever undergone HIV testing, feel at risk of being infected. STI knowledge was assessed based on the ability of the FSW to correctly identify at least three of the six most common symptoms, viz., lower abdominal pain, foul smelling vaginal discharge, burning on micturition, genital ulcer/sore, swelling in the groin area, and genital itching. Mobility and migration patterns influencing perception of HIV and STI risk was also assessed. Consistent condom use (CCU) was defined as condom use with every sexual contact. This was assessed separately for clients, and nonpaying partners.

Blood samples (8-10 ml) were collected to detect syphilis, Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) and HIV serology. Seroprevalence of HIV infection was determined by using two test algorithms (Screening test- Microlisa - HIV by J. Mitra and Confirmatory test- Genedia HIV 1/2 ELISA 3.0 by Greencross life Sciences Corp, Korea). HSV-2 ELISA was performed on 10 per cent of randomly selected samples using HerpSelect 2 ELISA IgG kits (Focus Diagnostics, USA). Syphilis was diagnosed based on rapid plasma reagin (RPR) titre, followed by TPHA confirmation. N. gonorrhoeae (NG) and C. trachomatis (CT) were detected in urine samples by Gen-Probe APTIMA Combo 2 assay (USA).

Statistical analysis: Descriptive statistics was carried out to study the profile of the female sex workers. Logistic regression analysis was done with Statistical Package for Social Sciences version 15 (USA) using the complex sampling module. All estimates were weighted for unequal selection probability. The complex sampling module was used to account for the weights for unequal selection probability.

   Results Top

A total of 5580 FSWs were approached, of whom 3223 FSWs gave written consent to participate in the survey and completed the behavioural interview and gave biological (blood and urine) samples. The mean (SD) age of the FSWs was 30.5 ± 7.38 yr, ranging from less than 20 to more than 45 yr, but a majority (P<0.001) of them were 20-40 yr old [Table 1]. Significantly (P<0.001) higher number of FSWs were illiterates and solicited clients on bus stops or streets (public places). Very few FSWs were never married (P<0.001), with more than 90 per cent being either currently married or widowed or separated and 41 per cent of the FSW had sex work as the sole source of income [Table 1]. Majority (76.2%) of the FSWs had first sexual debut at very young age (<18 yr), with mean age at first sexual debut being 15.7 yr; though the mean age they began sex work was 23.6 yr. Mean duration in sex work was 6 yr [Table 1].
Table 1: Demographic and behavioural profile of female sex workers (FSWs)

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Three thousand one hundred (96.2%) of the FSWs had regular clients and a similar proportion (93.8%) also had occasional client with mean clients being 2.4 per day. 2514 (78%) had nonpaying regular partners apart from clients. Condom use in last sex was 91 per cent (2933) and 84.7 per cent (2723) with occasional and regular clients, respectively, as against only 8.9 per cent (28) with nonpaying regular partners. Consistent condom use (CCU) was slightly lesser with regular clients compared to occasional clients and nearly a quarter (28.7%) of the FSWs could not use condom though they desired [Table 1].

Nearly 90 per cent of the FSWs had heard of STIs and could correctly identify at least two of the most common STI symptoms. A high proportion of FSWs (52 to 89%) reported that they had at least one of the three STI symptoms (vaginal discharge, lower abdominal pain or ulcer) at least once during the last year. Two to 12 per cent of the FSWs reported genital ulcer/sore at the time of the survey. More than 75 per cent of the FSWs opted for trained care (Avahan, other NGO, Government or private doctors/clinics) for the treatment of STIs.

More than 95 per cent (3061) of the FSWs heard of HIV, but about 99 per cent believed that HIV/AIDS cannot be prevented [Table 1]; 18 to 77 per cent of the FSWs reported having ever undergone a HIV test among the different districts covered. More than 35 per cent (1200) felt that they were 'at-risk' for HIV infection.

C. trachomatis and N. gonorrheae was prevalent in 110 (3.4%) and 64 of 3223 (2%) of the FSWs respectively and about 70 per cent of the FSWs were positive for HSV2. HIV was prevalent in 16.3 per cent (525) of the FSWs. All the STIs (syphilis, N. gonorrheae, C. trachomatis and HSV2) were significantly (P<0.01) associated with HIV infection in the population studied.

Of the 525 HIV positives FSWs, 236 (45%) were aged between 25 to 34 yr and an estimated 31.2 per cent were more than 35, while 23.5 per cent were less than 25 yr. 227 (43.0%) HIV positives had been in sex work for less than 5 yr and about 57 per cent (301) had been in sex work for more than 5 yr. 242 (46%) HIV positives FSWs solicited clients at public places and 29.7 and 21.6 per cent solicited clients from home or brothel, respectively. On assessing the STI status it was found that 21.6 per cent of the HIV positives were also positive for STIs as against only 11.8 per cent amongst HIV negative FSWs.

Logistic regression analysis showed that marital status, migration, typology (brothel or street based sex work), age or educational status had no influence on consistent condom use (CCU). However, high client volume (5-9 and more than 10 per week) had significantly (P=0.03) higher risk of not practicing CCU. Similarly, not carrying condom at the time of survey was significantly (P=0.001) associated with 2 fold (OR 1.911) increased risk of not practicing CCU [Table 2]. Amongst FSWs who were forced for sex, CCU was 1.6 fold lesser when compared to those who were not forced (OR 0.569). FSWs who wanted to use condom but could not use in past 1 month due to various reasons such as non co-operation by the clients showed four-fold decreased (P<0.001; OR 0.222) CCU when compared to those who did not face such a situation [Table 2]. As for knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention measures was concerned, FSWs without correct knowledge had CCU 2.7 fold lesser than those who had correct knowledge, though not significant. The other risk variables were not associated with CCU.
Table 2: Logistic regression analysis to assess potential risk variables that influence the consistent condom use (CCU)

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When logistic regression analysis was carried out to assess the risk of HIV with demographic and other variables (age, marital status, typology of sex work, educational status, CCU and STIs); none of the variables were associated with HIV except STIs, which was significantly (P<0.05) associated with HIV status.

   Discussion Top

The HIV prevalence in India is estimated to be less than 0.5 per cent in adults, but higher HIV prevalence is reported in six States in India particularly in population with high risk behaviour, such as FSW, MSM and clients, where the majority of infections are acquired sexually [2],[3] . Andhra Pradesh is one of the high prevalence States in India with an estimated 16 per cent prevalence in FSWs, ranging from 8-41 per cent [6],[7] . The present study also reported a similar prevalence of HIV.

Most FSWs in the present study had their first sexual debut at a very young age and started sex work at about 5-6 years later. Similar observations were made in a survey carried out in 2006 [8] . Adolescent and young adult behaviour is of special interest since the number of life-years saved would be greatest if HIV is prevented in young individuals; moreover, it may be easier to change sexual attitudes, practices and risky behaviours among the younger than the older population. Thus, young girls in their early teens have to be targeted by the HIV prevention programmes. Though, awareness about HIV/AIDS or STI was high, more than 90 per cent believed that HIV /AIDS cannot be prevented. Roughly two thirds of the FSWs population was illiterate, similar to that reported in an earlier study; however, a huge number of FSWs were street based in our study as against only 5 per cent in the earlier study [8] .

The extent of condom use at 'last sex' reported in the present study was similar to an earlier report [6] . We found no difference in CCU amongst married and never-married, widowed or separated FSWs, which is in contrast to an earlier report that showed a lower condom use in married [9] . CCU was low with non commercial partners. With HIV prevalence being high among FSWs, it is important to promote condom use in all types of sexual relationships, including regular, occasional partners and non commercial partners, since even non commercial partners might have risky sexual behaviours such as unprotected sex with multiple partners. One of the principle reasons for lower condom use amongst non commercial partners could be that it may signal mistrust. A cochrane review indicates that consistent condom use results in 80 per cent reduction in HIV incidence [10] . Addressing these issues in information, education and communication campaigns, including encouraging HIV testing for regular non commercial partners assumes importance.

Educational messages should aim at enabling individuals to correctly assess their own HIV risk and also encourage behaviour change based on self-assessment of risk. It is also important to encourage condom use in all types of sexual relationships, including regular non commercial partners.

Many HIV positive FSWs were also positive for one or more sexually transmitted infections. As per an earlier study [11] women positive for STIs usually have a high plasma viral load high enough to pose a risk of HIV transmission [11],[12] . It has been shown that the presence of STI increases shedding of HIV and that STI treatment reduces HIV shedding [12],[13] . In the present study, a high proportion of FSWs were positive for both HIV and STI suggesting a high risk of HIV transmission in the community.

The prevalence of HIV infection among FSWs is increasing in several districts of Andhra Pradesh and the HIV-infected FSWs remain sexually active after their HIV diagnosis. Correct knowledge about HIV spread was very low, misconception was very high. NACO envisages targeted interventions among the high-risk populations that include behaviour change, health care, treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases, provision of condoms, and creating an enabling environment for behaviour change to reduce HIV/AIDS incidence [1] . In 2008 alone, there were 2.7 million new HIV infections [14] . One sixth of these new infections were among people less than 15 yr old [14] . Most FSWs in the present study had first sexual debut at a very young age. Keeping this in view, attempts are needed to educate young girls in their early teens about HIV prevention programmes and those that empower women.

   Acknowledgment Top

The authors thank the Director, National Institute of Nutrition for his support throughout the study and acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the IBBA Team at Microbiology Division, Field Division and District Laboratories of the districts covered in the study. Financial support was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through Avahan, its India AIDS initiative.

   References Top

1.NACO. HIV sentinel surveillance and HIV estimation in India 2007: A technical brief. Social morbidity of AIDS in high prevalence districts of Andhra Pradesh. New Delhi: Ministry of Health & Family Welfare; 2007.   Back to cited text no. 1
2.National AIDS Control Organisation: National Baseline High Risk and Bridge Population Behavioural Surveillance survey-2001 Part-I: Female Sex Workers and their clients; New Delhi; 2004. Available from:, accessed on April 15, 2006.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. 2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic. Geneva: UNAIDS; 2004.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.International Institute of Population of Sciences and Macro International. National Family Health Survey (2005-2006) (NFHS-3), vol. I. Mumbai: IIPS; 2007.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Saidel T, Adhikary R, Mainkar M, Dale J, Loo V, Rahman M, et al. Baseline integrated behavioural and biological assessment among most at-risk populations in six high-prevalence states of India: design and implementation challenges. AIDS 2008; 22 (Suppl 5): S17-S34.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Blankenship KM, West B, Hanck S, Irwin K, Niccolai L, Kershaw T. Community mobilization and empowerment and HIV related risk behaviors of female sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, India. AIDS Science Day 2007. Available from:, accessed on September 20, 2010.   Back to cited text no. 6
7.Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society. VIII Round of National Annual Sentinel Surveillance for HIV. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh; 2004.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Dandona R, Dandona L, Anil Kumar G, Gutierrez JP, McPherson S, Samueis F, et al. Demography and sex work characteristics of female sex workers in India. BMC Int Health Hum Rights 2006; 6 : 5.   Back to cited text no. 8
9.Population Services International (2007). Belize (2007): HIV/AIDS. TRaC study evaluating condom use among male clients of sex workers. First round. Social Marketing Research Series. Washington, DC. Available from:, accessed on September 15, 2010.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Weller SC, Davis K. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2002; (1) : CD003255.   Back to cited text no. 10
11.Trent M, Chung SE, Ellen JM, Clum G; and the Adolescent HIV/AIDS Trials Network. New sexually transmitted infections among HIV infected adolescent girls infected with HIV. Sex Transm Infect 2007; 83 : 468-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Robinson NJ, Mulder DW, Auvert B, Hayes RJ. Proportion of HIV infections attributable to other sexually transmitted diseases in a rural Ugandan population: simulation model estimates. Intl J Epidemiol 1997; 26 : 180-9.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Cohen MS, Hoffman IF, Royce RA, Kazembe P, Dyer JR, Daly CC, et al. Reduction of concentration of HIV-1 in semen after treatment of urethritis; implications for prevention of sexual transmission of HIV-1. AIDSCAP Malawi Research Group. Lancet 1997; 349 : 1868-73.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.UNAIDS/09.36/JC1 1700. 2009, November. AIDS epidemic update. Available from:, accessed on September 21, 2010.  Back to cited text no. 14


  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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