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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

The secret of HIV control can be found in the back streets

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 16 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a800
  1. Joanna Busza, lecturer, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  1. Joanna.Busza{at}

    An “entertaining rant” about the foibles of international aid for HIV prevention is underpinned by rigorous research, finds Joanna Busza

    A major crackdown on prostitution is under way in Cambodia. Over the past few weeks police have been rounding up sex workers and closing down brothels. In response, 200 sex workers marched through Phnom Penh to protest against the human rights abuses—including extortion, intimidation, and rape—accompanying the mass arrests.1 2 Both sides have used the rhetoric of HIV prevention to support their cause: the police argue that commercial sex fuels the epidemic and thus should be abolished; the sex workers point out that forcing them into hiding limits their access to condoms and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

    This is the kind of scenario that makes the journalist turned epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani’s blood boil, motivating her to write The Wisdom of Whores—an entertaining rant against the seemingly irreconcilable gap between what she calls Planet Epidemiology and Planet Politics. The book is full of similar examples, mainly from Asia, demonstrating how simple, effective HIV prevention measures that are based on sound evidence are routinely ignored in favour …

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