Objectives: Male clients of female sex workers have rarely been specific targets for HIV/sexually transmitted diseases (STD) interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. We assessed the effectiveness of outreach methodology for contacting sexual partners of female sex workers for purposes of HIV/STD prevention in Cotonou, Benin.
Design and methods: In collaboration with owners/managers, outreach personnel and female sex workers, 404 clients were recruited on-site at prostitution venues, and provided urine samples for leukocyte esterase dipstick (LED), STD and HIV testing before having sex with female sex workers. After having sex they underwent an interview and physical examination. No payment was made for study participation. Prostitution site personnel (n = 41) and boyfriends of female sex workers (n = 56) were also recruited.
Results: In all 68% of the clients approached agreed to participate. On-site LED testing and free STD treatment were important factors in participation. HIV-1 prevalence was several-fold higher than in the general population in Cotonou, at 8.4, 12.2 and 16.1% in clients, personnel and boyfriends respectively, and was associated with increasing age and lack of condom use with female sex workers. Condom use rates by clients with female sex workers were non-negligible but sub-optimal, and low with regular partners. Approximately one-third of clients with regular partners also had other non-female sex worker sex partners. Boyfriends of female sex workers are of particular concern due to high numbers of partners, very low condom use rates and high HIV prevalence.
Conclusions: Study findings indicate that male sex partners of female sex workers form a 'bridging population' for HIV/STD transmission both to female sex workers, as well as from female sex workers to the general population of women, particularly regular female partners.