NIH Awards $254K to Study Workforce Safety of Male Prostitutes in Boston

June 28, 2013 - 1:18 PM


HIV Testing

Patient using an oral test for HIV (AP Photo)

( – The National Institutes of Health is spending $253,800 of federal taxpayer money to study ways to educate Boston’s male prostitutes on safe-sex practices.

According to a description of the federally funded project, a previous study of male sex workers in Boston found that “almost one third (31%) were HIV-infected, and most (84%) had a steady male or female partner, thus the risk for HIV-infection/transmission is not only to/from their sex work clients but also to/from their primary partners... Notably, every participant reported using a variety of drugs and/or alcohol in the context of sex work in the prior 12 months”

The current study, headed by Dr. Matthew Mimiaga at the Boston-based Fenway Community Health Center, began May 15th of this year and runs through April 30, 2015.  It will specifically look at “how contemporary social, sexual, and drug use network characteristics contribute to increased HIV and STI [sexually-transmitted infections] risk behavior and transmission of HIV and other STIs among MSM [“men who have sex with men”] sex workers.”

“Men who have sex with men who engage in transactional sex (i.e., "sex work") are a largely understudied group at particularly elevated risk for drug abuse and HIV infection and transmission,” a description of the study says.

“This population represents an important subpopulation of MSM potentiating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S, in that sex work among MSM has been associated with elevated HIV seropositivity, concurrent substance abuse, and HIV transmission risk behavior.”

Researchers say no statistics exist specifically concerning the HIV/AIDS rate among Boston’s “important subpopulation” of male prostitutes – much less for those who use narcotics. State data reveals some 5,297 people within the city were diagnosed with the incurable disease as of 2011.  Forty-nine percent of those found to be HIV-positive were gay men.

Researchers “will recruit a diverse cohort of MSM sex workers to complete an in- person comprehensive social, sexual, and drug network, sexual risk, substance use, and psychosocial assessment battery.”  This “battery” of questions will be administered on three separate occasions, allowing researchers to track the progress they hope to see in condom use and HIV testing among Boston’s male prostitutes, virtually all of whom also abuse drugs and alcohol.

The study’s researchers, who could not be reached for comment, are hoping that the data obtained from these questionnaires will help them foster a healthier work environment for male prostitutes in Boston by encouraging them to use condoms and seek HIV testing and treatment.


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