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Asian prostitutes seek official recognition to curb spread of AIDS

A group of Asian prostitutes attending an AIDS congress on Wednesday urged governments to recognize their profession and said that being forced to work underground was promoting the spread of AIDS.

The four women and one man, representing the Asia-Pacific Sex Workers' Network, told a press conference that society should not treat them like criminals but protect them from police harassment, including arrest, assault and rape."We call on the delegates to the International Congress on AIDS . . . to recognize that sex work is an occupation . . . to accept it is the unsafe conditions at work rather than sex work itself that causes risk of HIV infection," the group said in a statement.

They launched the call at the end of a four-day international AIDS conference in Manila to discuss how to curb the spread of the disease in the Asia/Pacific region.

United Nations officials estimate that up to 7 million Asians by last year were carrying the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).