Zhang Xudong’s study on the reproductive health of young sex workers in Kunming received the “Women, Girls and HIV Investigator” prize. This is the first time a Chinese researcher has received this award.
Zhang’s research began in 2012. The subjects of her research were Kunming female sex workers under the age of 20, the youngest being 15 years old. According to 310 valid questionnaires, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions among young female sex workers are widespread, with 66% of people experiencing symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases, 44% having miscarried a child and 54% having had experiences with abortion complications. These figures when compared with a national 2009 survey on the health of Chinese youth shows that Kunming young sex workers pregnancy, repeat pregnancy and abortion rates are twice that of an average active Chinese teenager.
A fundamental challenge that many young sex workers face is their lack of access to reproductive health education and information, with limited access to schooling, traditional media and the internet. As a result, 70% of those surveyed could not answer 80% of reproductive health related questions. Yunnan province reportedly is the Chinese province with the most people infected with HIV.
Zhang Xudong and other researchers have faced challenges in trying to provide help and preventative care. Many who enter the industry intend to work for a short amount of time to make money and then stop and thus do not consider themselves to be sex workers. As a result, they do not reach out to public health personnel. Additionally, large scale anti-vice operations has made it harder for research networks and intervention groups to contact those who need their support. Reflecting on the current state of affairs, Zhang points out that family planning resources are made available to the married population, but not the young sexually active, unmarried population. As attitudes about sex and sexual health continue to open, it is important to have a health system that takes the human rights of young people into account.