NIH Funds $2.6 Million Study to Get Prostitutes in China to Drink Less

The federal government is spending $2.6 million to make sure prostitutes in China drink less on the job.

That's the goal of a five-year study, bankrolled by the National Institutes of Health, designed to help lower HIV infections among China's "female sex workers," who are referred to in the study as "FSWs."

Researchers will visit 100 houses of ill repute -- a whole hamlet of harlots -- to collect data on 700 prostitutes and 150 pimps and madams, referred to as "gatekeepers" in the study's sterile abstract.

Phase one of the study is intended to research "alcohol use/abuse and related sexual risk among FSWs in China," according to the abstract -- a cold hard look at why prostitutes engage in dangerous sex while drunk.

The study's director says the information gained from the study will then be used to tailor HIV prevention programs for the bawds from Beihai, a coastal tourist town in Guangxi province, which has the third-highest HIV infection rate of China's 22 provinces.

The project comes thanks to a grant from the NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is also funding a $400,000 study of bars in Buenos Aires to find out why gay men engage in risky sexual behavior while drunk -- and just what can be done about it.

The first prong of the Chinese intervention program involves "gatekeeper training," which means teaching pimps and madams to enhance the culture of safe sex in their brothels.

The study's director, Dr. Xiaoming Li of Wayne State University in Michigan, then hopes to convince the prostitutes to drink less and use condoms more while they're on the job.

The U.N. estimates that about 700,000 people are infected with HIV in China, mostly transmitted through unprotected sex. Recent government programs to distribute condoms to prostitutes have helped address the problem, but they haven't solved it.

The study -- tailored specifically for use in China -- was approved in November, and the government has already spent $469,903 to fund it.

"The proposed intervention program will be a cultural adaptation and integration of existing evidence-based programs in Asian settings," reads the study's abstract, which singles out China as a special challenge because of unique cultural circumstances (and 10 million working prostitutes) there.

Dr. Li, who did not respond to calls and e-mails from seeking comment, told CNS News that because prostitution occurs with alcohol use in the United States, just as it does in China, Americans will be able to benefit from the project's findings.

"We want to get some understanding of the fundamental role of alcohol use and HIV risk," he said. "We use the population in China as our targeted population to look at the basic issues. I think the findings will benefit the American people, too."