This study describes the extent to which commercial sex workers (CSW) in Cebu City, Philippines perceive prophylactic antibiotic use to be an effective form of prevention for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), as well as the prevalence of this self-treatment practice.
A survey instrument was developed and pretested after 3 months of intensive ethnographic research on STD and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). A multistage sampling procedure was followed to ensure that a representative sample of CSW from four distinct work environments would be interviewed. Commercial sex workers registered at the Cebu City social hygiene clinic were sampled randomly from coded work establishment lists, and a convenience sample of unregistered freelance CSW was secured. In total, 200 CSW were interviewed. Of these 200 CSW, all were sexually active, but only 160 had been engaged actively in commercial sexual exchange the month before their interviews.
Popular use of antibiotics as prophylaxis against STD is commonplace in the Philippines among CSW, with 38% reporting routine or occasional use and 31% reporting use in the last 2 weeks. Unregistered CSW are five times more likely to use prophylactic antibiotics than registered CSW, and they are seven times less likely to use condoms with 80% or more of their customers. They also have sex with three times as many customers.
Use of prophylactic antibiotics by CSW offers them a false sense of security in a high-risk work environment. Self-treatment with low-dose prophylactic antibiotics provides no protection against STD, impedes STD screening efforts, and contributes to antibiotic resistance. An alarming percentage of CSW consider antibiotics a potential means of protecting themselves against AIDS. Public health interventions focusing on STD and AIDS in developing countries must address current patterns of prophylactic antibiotic use.
From the Cebu City STD/AIDS Detection Unit, Philippines, and the Department of Anthropology University of Arizona, Tucson
Received for publication August 31, 1995, revised December 12, 1995, and accepted December 21, 1995.
Supported by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Arizona.
Reprint requests: Mark Nichter, PhD, MPH, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Haury Building, Tucson, AZ 85721.