NEW DELHI: One of the biggest red light areas in all of Asia, Sonagachi, is soon to become a testing ground for a feasibility project aimed to stem the increasing cases of HIV positive cases among sex workers. The project is to be launched in December and is being funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The feasibility project was recently passed by National AIDS control Organization (NACO) and Union Health Ministry.

“We recently gave clearance to this project. It is a feasibility project. It is for the first time that such a project is being taken up in India,” national program officer at NACO, BB Rewari, told PTI.

Sex workers, apart from men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women (TGW), are among the high risk individuals who are most prone to catching the HIV virus. Now, coupled with the use of condom, the use of pill mandated under this project, will provide double protection to the sex workers against the HIV infection. It is also supposed to guard against those customers who insist on not using condoms.

Under the project, ‘Pre-Exposure Prophylaxies’ (PrEP) will be given to the sex-workers, who themselves are not HIV positive but are at risk of meeting customers who are. Currently, the only drug which is prescribed as an effective PrEP is ‘Truvada’, which has shown to be 50-60 percent to 90 percent effective in decreasing the chances of HIV infection, across several studies. The drug was passed by FDA in 2012.

According to International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a not-for-profit organization which had conducted trials for the medicine in Uganda, the use of PrEP even when taken intermittently (twice a week), were well-tolerated with no safety concerns.

“PrEP is one of several preventive options helping to stem the tide of HIV… This study suggests that an intermittent dosing regimen can be acceptable and have high adherence,” said Frances Priddy, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director at IAVI.

An awareness program will also be run by Sonagachi Research and Training Institute (SRTI),an NGO, to inform the sex-workers about the use and benefits of the pill, which is to be taken orally.

“We have already started survey of HIV-positive and HIV-negative sex workers in Sonagachi. We hope the project will start from December this year,” Samarjit Jana, the Principal of the NGO, said.

The initiative is an important one in a country which has third highest number of HIV infected people in the world. According to figures published last year by UNAIDS, India hosts about 2.1 million people who have HIV virus, highest in the region.