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AIDS, hepatitis, TB cases shoot up

Five sex workers who tested positive for HIV were led to an Athens prosecutor on Thursday and face criminal charges.

Ongoing testing carried out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEEL) in parts of central Athens that have large populations of undocumented immigrants and are known as haunts for prostitutes and drug addicts have revealed a sharp spike in cases of hepatitis, tuberculosis and HIV, according to reports.

KEEL has been operating mobile testing units and running a public information campaign in run-down parts of central Athens since September 2011 in a drive by the Health Ministry to tackle diseases related to intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, as well as unsanitary living conditions.

Recent legislation, meanwhile, has given KEEL the authority to force sex workers to undergo blood tests.

Since the beginning of the campaign, KEEL has tested over 24,000 people and found 85 to be HIV positive, of whom 12 are sex workers. Scientists have also noted a sharp rise in other diseases related to drug use and unprotected sex, as well as to unsanitary living conditions, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.

According to scientists working in KEEL’s grassroots awareness campaign, some 10 percent of prostitutes who have been tested -- voluntarily or otherwise -- since September have been found to have AIDS.

In the past year the teams have approached over 400 illegal brothels, where they have distributed information leaflets in various languages warning of the dangers of unprotected sex and providing basic sanitation guidelines, while also providing free condoms to patrons and prostitutes.

Meanwhile, KEEL’s decision to publish the photographs and personal details of 12 prostitutes who were found to have AIDS and who face felony charges in what the Health Ministry defends as a move to protect public safety has raised a storm of objections from rights groups that argue it is a violation of privacy and of patient-doctor privilege.

The General Secretariat for Gender Equality said in an statement on Thursday that the publication of the prostitutes’ personal data “further stigmatizes and victimizes sex workers,” adding that if it were a matter of public safety, then the photographs and names of people who have had sex with the prostitutes should be made public as well.

ekathimerini.com , Thursday May 3, 2012 (22:40)  
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