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Soc Sci Med. 1994 Aug;39(3):323-33.

A socioeconomic, clinical and serological study in an African city of prostitutes and women still married to their first husband.

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Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.


The aim of this paper was to compare women involved in prostitution with a group of women still married to their first husband and reporting having had only one sexual partner, in order to ascertain what factors if any contributed to women going into prostitution or staying still married to their first husband, their only sexual partner, and thereafter to compare clinical and serological aspects of the gynaecological conditions of the women in these two groups. The role of prostitutes in transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) is widely recognised. Socioeconomic factors determining whether a woman will drift into prostitution or have a stable first marriage are largely unknown as are prevalence rates of STD, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and cervical cancer in these women. A socioeconomic, clinical and serologic study is reported for 2111 Ethiopian women attending teaching hospitals and maternal and child health clinics in Addis Ababa, analysing basic demographic data of three groups of women: (i) 278 engaged in prostitution, (ii) 730 still married to their one and only sexual partner, and (iii) 1103 single, widowed, divorced or married to their second or subsequent partner. Thereafter groups (i) and (ii) were compared and contrasted with regard to further socioeconomic, clinical and serological associations. The most significant socioeconomic associations for women in prostitution were low income (95% had < 50 Ethiopian birr [< U.S. $25] per month), ethnic group, and the timing of first coitus in relation to the menarche (81% were first married by age 15), in that order. Women still married to their first sexual partner had higher income, higher age at first marriage and longer duration of marriage. Sero-prevalence rates of STD in prostitutes were high: gonorrhoea 88%, genital chlamydiae 78%, syphilis (TPHA) 62%, HSV2 and HBV 46%, and chancroid 19%: 67% had PID and 2.9% cervical cancer. In comparison, rates for women married to their first and only sexual partner were: gonorrhoea 40%, genital chlamydiae 54%, syphilis (TPHA) 19%, HSV2 33%, HBV 35%, chancroid 13%, PID 47% and cervical cancer 1%. While the very high prevalence of STD in women involved in prostitution is not so unexpected, the high rate of STD in women still married to their first and only sexual partner is indicative of male promiscuity. Control of prostitution and diseases spread by it, together with education of both men and women is a national priority.

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