PROJECT SAKHI (AN INTERVENTION PROJECT AMONG SEX WORKERS )

"Project Sakhi" is one of the first peer based intervention projects for prevention of HIV/AIDS/STDs among the sex workers in the North East India which has been implemented by APS in Guwahati City in Assam . The project supported by Assam State AIDS Control Society has been started from March 2000. Recognising the poor sexual health status of sex workers in Guwahati city ,the gateway to the North East India and their low level of knowledge , present belief systems, practices in prevention and care of sexual health , it was observed that it contributed to a situation where STD/HIV could spread rapidly and as such an intervention project felt necessary was being implemented in the city.

Initially a baseline assessment was conducted through a sample survey to look into the issues of social demography, mapping, behavioral practices among sex workers , knowledge and attitude towards STD/AIDS and assessed the prevalence of STDs among them. There is widespread prevalence of STD and a poor level of knowledge of STD/AIDS among the sex workers . There is also high volume of migration and being the gateway of the North East a large number of people enter and exit through this busy capital city. A very large immigrant population is also residing in various pockets of the city. Some sex workers in the city are young women from the neighbouring States and also from the neighbouring countries who cross over the porous borders Some of the constraints in implementation of the project is that Guwahati city do not have any established Red Light area and as such the sex worker population are mostly a floating population operating either on street level or residence based while others operate as call girls and from some private hostels of the city Because of lack of a Red Light area in the city the situation is much more complicated and only through the network of peers have they been effectively reached for effective intervention through innovative approaches. The peers are treated as friends or 'Sakhis' who are looked upon as those providing help and support and the genesis of the project .

The principal components of Project Sakhi are :- I) Behaviour Change Communication ii) STD diagnosis and treatment iii) Condom Programming and iv) creating an enabling environment. Trained outreach and peers have effectively conducted behaviour change communication sessions and educated the clients on various issues of HIV/AIDS. Support from the community was evident as with their support a field based health centre was established to cater to the health needs of the sex workers . The project undertook activities for meeting the needs of the sex workers and addressed the issues related to education, literacy, child care, education of children of sex workers and provided them psychosocial support.

A large number of sex workers were provided STD treatment services under the project. Condom use which were almost non existent are gradually increasing and because of the peers-"Sakhis" , their condom negotiating skills with their clients have improved . Living a life with very low esteem they are gradually feeling much secure with supporting "Sakhis" to whom they can turn to with confidence anytime they feel the need.

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