In a first, the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS) will encourage women working at spa and massage parlours across the city to undergo HIV testing for early diagnosis. Further, MDACS will create awareness and counsel them about sexually transmitted diseases that they may contract or spread to others unknowingly. This is a section that doesn't consider itself vulnerable but runs the risk of getting infected or infecting others. They are not open to direct counselling and so we had to come up with novel methods. These high-risk groups include men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSW), so there is an urgent need for intervention and reaching out to FSWs associated with spas and massage parlours for HIV-related prevention, treatment and care services, said a senior official from MDACS.
However, sex work patterns have undergone a change owing to technology and social media. Apart from the existing traditional street, brothel and home-based sites of solicitation, there are now new physical spaces, such as massage parlours or spas, where solicitation takes place.
Research revealed masseurs and masseuses are involved in high-risk behaviour
Moreover, studies conducted in massage parlours in Asia and North America have indicated that masseurs and masseuses frequently engage in high-risk behaviour, including sex work, which makes them vulnerable to contracting HIV and other STIs.
"The studies had also highlighted that alcohol consumption is prevalent amongst them and they are exposed to violence from clients and intimate partners. The evidence highlights that intervening at spas and massage parlours are critical to enhancing coverage of HIV prevention, treatment and care services," he said.
NGO and MDACS officials will meet people working in spas
Meanwhile, an NGO, Joining DOTS, along with MDACS, will meet with all workers linked to such parlours to reach out to them to create awareness related to HIV prevention, treatment and care services. "Until now, we have organised camps in two spas and parlours and have received good responses. Along with counselling, all spa employees have also been tested for HIV and other sex-related diseases," said an official from the NGO.
MDACS has undertaken population mapping and size estimation in 26 spas and massage parlours and also conducted focus group discussions with workers. However, during discussions with stakeholders, it emerged that Mumbai has more than 200 spas and massage parlours. Yogendra Sharma (name changed), who uses spa and massage parlour services, praised the initiatives. "I go for physical pleasure, but neither the service provider knows about my status nor I about his. Now, the employees will be made aware, and their health status will be known."