Challenges and barriers experienced by women sex workers to accessing HIV/AIDS services in Chandigarh, Northern India
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Despite advances in access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment services in recent years, the epidemic continues to grow. To make steady gains in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of empowering women by promoting gender-equality to combat HIV/AIDS, it is important to recognize the barriers to HIV/AIDS services which constrain women sex workers from gaining universal access to those services. The aim of this research was to explore the barriers experienced by women sex workers to accessing HIV/AIDS services in Chandigarh, Punjab. A qualitative descriptive methodology was used to understand barriers as perceived by the women, in conjunction with the social, political and economic contexts which often contribute to women sex workers’ unmet health needs. Data were collected using semi-structured in-depth interviews with seven study participants; including three non-government organisation staff members and four women sex workers. Using thematic analysis based on the data generated from the study participants, findings were organised according to the two domains of data collection: barriers to accessing HIV/AIDS services for women sex workers of Chandigarh; and socio-economic issues related to women sex workers accessing services in Chandigarh. The key implication from this study suggested that the clandestine nature of sex work in Chandigarh and Punjab has affected the way HIV/AIDS services are delivered. The results revealed that some of the barriers to accessing HIV/AIDS services for women sex workers included the effects of clandestine behaviour resulting in stigma rooted in shame and fear; and constraints related to funding and resources resulting in provision-related disabling factors such as non-availability of trained health care personnel, and lack of medical camps and mobile testing services. Also important to consider was that no research studies were found that were published on women sex workers in relation to HIV/AIDS services in Chandigarh, Punjab. To enhance sex workers access to HIV/AIDS services, it is important for health workers and policy makers to consider the needs of sex workers by developing local gender-specific and culturally sensitive approaches to better assure requisite behaviour change among the sex workers for HIV/AIDS prevention.