Objective: Description of the epidemiology of HIV infection among sex workers (SW) in Accra, Ghana.
Methods: In all, 1013 SW working out of their homes ( seaters ) or finding customers in bars, hotels, brothels or on the street ( roamers ) were interviewed and tested for HIV.
Results: Overall, prevalence of HIV infection was nearly 50% (506 of 1013), varying from 26% (133 of 507) among the roamers to 74% (368 of 496) among the seaters. Profound differences were noted between these two categories of SW with regard to age, number of clients per day, price per instance of intercourse, condom use, and other characteristics. Respectively, 27% and 58% of roamers and seaters were infected with HIV within their first 6 months of sex work, despite a limited number of unprotected sex acts with seropositive clients. Independent risk factors for HIV infection varied between types of SW: age among the roamers; region of origin and duration of sex work among the seaters; number of clients per day, and presence of current or past genital ulcer and gonococcal cervicitis in both groups.
Conclusion: In Accra, considerable heterogeneity exists in the population of SWs. In both categories of SW, new recruits become rapidly infected with HIV after entering the trade. The 25-fold higher prevalence of HIV among SWs than in the general adult population suggests that in Accra, as in many cities of West Africa, a high fraction of new cases of HIV infection continue to be acquired from SWs. Intervention programs targeting SW should be an essential component of national AIDS control strategies. Special efforts should be made to identify and offer preventive services to new sex workers.