AIDS prevention seminar for Chinese prostitutes sparks debate

An AIDS prevention seminar held for prostitutes has sparked a heated debate in a northeast Chinese city, state media reported Monday.

The two-hour seminar was held last week in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, by the city's disease prevention center, the Beijing News said. The center is overseen by the city's health bureau.

About 50 sex workers attended the event the first of its kind in the city which taught them about AIDS prevention and the importance of using condoms, the newspaper said.

"Not only did they receive a gift for participating, they also got free condoms and were given a telephone number to call if they needed help," it said.

Many residents were angered by the forum.

"If we give prostitutes training, then is the government admitting that these sexual services are available?" a woman, surnamed Huang, was quoted as saying. "This may protect them but it's also an acknowledgment of illegal activities."

State media reported last year that HIV infection rates among prostitutes have risen from two per 10,000 in 1996 to 93 per 10,000 in 2004, reports AP.

The paper said that the strongest reaction came from the local police, who said the seminar was unacceptable and made them "feel uncomfortable."

"This event does not make ... their jobs legal," it quoted the police as saying. "While we recognize the positive aspects of this, it doesn't mean we will soften our resolve in cracking down on prostitution."

Other citizens said educating the sex workers is the best way to cope with the problem, which is unlikely to be controlled, the paper reported.

HIV/AIDS in China has largely been limited to victims of unsanitary blood-buying schemes or people infected through prostitution or intravenous drug use.