Sexually transmitted infections and reproductive health morbidity in a cohort of female sex workers screened for a microbicide feasibility study in Nellore, India

  •  Avina Sarna    
  •  Barbara Friedland    
  •  Aylur Srikrishnan    
  •  Lauren Katzen    
  •  Waimur Tun    
  •  Sharon Abbott    
  •  Ulrike Rawiel    
  •  Christine Kelly    
  •  C Shalini    
  •  Suniti Solomon    
  •  Barbara Mensch    


Women constitute 38% of India’s 2.4 million HIV-infected persons. Microbicides are potential HIV-prevention products currently undergoing clinical trials for efficacy. A four-month placebo vaginal gel trial was conducted in Nellore, India to determine the feasibility of recruiting a suitable cohort of female sex workers (FSWs) for a future vaginal microbicide efficacy trial. We report on the HIV and STI prevalence and reproductive health (RH) morbidity of FSWs screened for the trial.  

Results: 529 FSWs completed screening procedures; of those 33.6% were found ineligible.  The mean age was 30.9 years; 68.6% women were married and 57.5% were home-based FSWs.  Self-reported symptoms included abnormal vaginal discharge (31.6%), genital itching (3.4%), uterine mass/prolapse (3%) and painful intercourse (2.6%).  Gynecological surgery was reported by 73.2% of participants; of those 10.5% had undergone a hysterectomy. Female sterilization was the most commonly reported contraceptive method.

Pelvic examination showed vaginal discharge (50.7%), cervical discharge (5.3%), uterine/vaginal wall prolapse (2.6%), and cervical mass/nodule/vesicles/genital warts (4.2%). Common epithelial findings included erythema (79.1%) and vesicles/bullae (6%); 46% of participants had Papanicolaou tests graded as inflammatory and 1.1% as malignant. HSV-2 was the mostly commonly detected STI (60.7%) followed by HIV (5.3%), syphilis (2.8%), chlamydia (2.2%), gonorrhoea (0.7%) and trichomoniasis (15.5%).  RTIs were more common: bacterial vaginosis (27.8%) and candidiasis (18.9%).

Conclusions:  The low HIV prevalence and high RH morbidity in the population makes this site unsuitable for a future phase 2 or 3 microbicide efficacy trial.  HIV prevention programs targeting this population should include access to RH services.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.