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Last Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Discounts for India sex workers
By Habib Beary
BBC News, Bangalore

Sex workers at the launch of the smart card scheme in Mysore
Workers must have three-monthly check-ups to remain eligible
Sex workers are being given smart cards in the southern Indian city of Mysore as part of a project to combat Aids.

Card holders get discounts at selected shops for groceries and clothes, and some restaurants, on the condition they have regular health checks.

Officials say this pilot project is the first of its kind in India.

The scheme is sponsored by the Aids India Initiative run by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It aims to cover more than 1,000 sex workers.

The card carries all the medical details of the sex worker, who is checked for sexually transmitted diseases on a regular basis at a clinic in Mysore.

"If they fail to turn up for a check-up every three months, the smart card automatically becomes invalid," says Sushena Reza-Paul, of the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust that is overseeing the scheme.

Extension possible

Ms Reza-Paul, who works at the University of Manitoba in Canada that is playing a role in the project, says the programme could well be extended to other cities and towns across India.

Now the card holders feel they are part of the mainstream - their self-esteem has gone up
Sushena Reza-Paul

"We are already getting calls from different places. Once the pilot project is completed, we will tabulate the findings and see how the scheme can be implemented," Ms Reza-Paul told the BBC.

"Shops and restaurants were initially reluctant to be associated with the project but eventually agreed.

"Now the card-holders feel they are part of the mainstream. Their self-esteem has gone up," she says.

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