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Sex Workers Adopt IT Solutions to Fight AIDS

If you think IT is only for the white collar tech-savvy urbanites, think again. Marginalised sex workers in Karnataka are now swiping their newly acquired smart// cards to avail themselves of discounts on daily purchases while keeping a check on HIV/AIDS.

About 500 disorganised sex workers in Mysore and Mandya districts of Karnataka are now armed with smart cards that not only prompt them to get regular health check ups to keep track of their STI (sexually transmitted infections) status but also get discounts on their daily purchases - from grocery to perfumes.

This pilot project began in July in the two districts at the initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in association with the University of Manitoba, Canada. It can be replicated in the rest of India if proved successful, Sushena Reza-Paul, assistant professor at the university, told IANS from Mysore.

"When we started the STI prevention programme and issued health cards to the majority of illiterate women here, who are not brothel-based like Kolkata's Sonagachi red light area, we found that follow-up is a big problem. They come from villages and go back and there are several girls of the same name," said Reza-Paul, who is also an advisor to Ashodaya Mahila Samannaya Samity, a sex workers' organisation.

Reza-Paul said that these sex workers were initially given ID numbers, which they did not remember. Following this, they were issued health cards, but they did not attach much value to it.

"It was then that we thought of using IT solutions to get them interested in periodic health check ups for HIV/AIDS prevention by issuing cards that would also entitle them to get discounts on daily purchases. The economic benefit of the card will prompt them to get periodic health check ups, failing which the card cannot be renewed," said Reza-Paul.

"We contacted their preferred vendors from whom they buy their daily grocery, sari, refreshment
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