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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Health chief calls for legal brothels
Cases of sexually transmitted diseases have risen
The top public health official in northwest England wants brothels legalised and inspected to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Since 1995 there has been a sharp rise in the number of cases of gonorrhoea and syphilis in Greater Manchester and on Merseyside.

Many of these are showing signs of becoming resistant to the drugs which are normally used to treat them.

Professor John Ashton, the Regional Director of Public Health for the North West, wants the sex industry to be regulated so that the spread of infection can be checked.

He told BBC News Online: "Penicillin-resistant syphilis and gonorrhoea first appeared in Greater Manchester where it was associated with men using massage parlours.

'Terrible problems'

"It has already spread to Liverpool and Merseyside.

Professor Ashton
Professor Ashton feels regulation is the answer
"Now it is appearing in London people are starting to notice.

"People have forgotten what life was like before antibiotics.

"The danger is that these kind of debilitating conditions which used to cause terrible problems may come back," he added.

Professor Ashton said it is impossible to treat people properly if you do not know where they are.

One of the reasons the diseases are becoming resistant to treatment is that people fail to finish off courses of antibiotic treatment, meaning the toughest germs are not touched.

Squalid premises

Professor Ashton said: "This may be similar to the cannabis debate, and we have to ask if we are prepared to be rational about it, and follow parts of Australia, Germany, and Holland, where the sex industry is regulated.

Sexually transmitted disease has almost tripled in the North West
1995:607 cases of gonorrhoea reported
2000:1624 cases of gonorrhoea reported
"If society is serious about this we need to register and control places where people go for commercial sex.

"We do not have lists of premises so we cannot tackle it in a systematic way.

"Unless there is registration, regulation, and inspection like there is with food and abbatoirs, this problem will get worse, as some premises are squalid.

"The safest sex is monogamous, but where it is not then proper protection must be used," he added.

Figures also suggest that HIV is becoming more prevalent as people with the virus stay alive longer, meaning there is a bigger pool of infection.

The latest Public Health Laboratory Service figures show a sharp increase in cases of gonorrhoea over just 12 months.

In 1999, there were 1,364 cases in men, and 609 in women - in 2000, there were 1,824 in men and 698 in women.

The BBC's Tony Morris
"The police say crackdowns do not solve the problem"
Professor John Ashton
"We've now got a pool of infection in the community"

Sex tax?
Should prostitution be legalised?

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See also:

30 Sep 00 | Europe
Dutch OK sex for sale
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