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In China Condom policies to prevent HIV fail to protect sex workers - research

The HIV epidemic is concentrated among high risk groups, including men who have sex with men and sex workers, and the main mode of transmission is sex.

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2016 Rio Olympics: Forests, faith and Olympic condoms play Condoms, produced with natural rubber extracted from the Seringueira tree, are seen at the Natex male condoms plant in Xapuri, Acre state, Brazil, June 23, 2016. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

Chinese police cracking down on sex workers routinely look for condoms as evidence of illegal activity, hindering efforts to prevent the spread of HIV among sex workers, one of the biggest at-risk groups in the country, experts said.

China, with a population of about 1.4 billion, has a relatively low HIV prevalence rate, with around half a million reported cases of people living with HIV or AIDS by the end of 2014, according to a government report published last year.

However, the HIV epidemic is concentrated among high risk groups, including men who have sex with men and sex workers, and the main mode of transmission is sex.

Up to 92 percent of the 104,000 cases diagnosed in 2014 resulted from sexual contact, according to research commissioned by Asia Catalyst, which promotes the right to health of marginalised groups in the region.

China provides free condoms for people living with HIV and allocates funds each year to buy condoms for distribution among at-risk populations, including sex workers, it said.

At the same time, police are authorised to crack down on sex work, which is illegal in China, and use condom seizure as its main tactic, Catalyst Asia said in a report.

"When police arrest sex workers, they will search for condoms, and that will decrease sex workers' willingness to carry and use condoms," said Tingting Shen, director of advocacy, policy, and research for Asia Catalyst.

"Among those who have been interrogated by police in the past year, condom usage rates are clearly lower," Shen said in a Skype interview from Beijing.

China's public security ministry could not be reached for comment and did not respond to faxed questions about the survey.

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