A vertical HIV intervention program was launched in 1992 following a base line study conducted by All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health (AIIH&PH), a Central Govt. institute. The objective was to initiate STD and HIV prevention program in Sonagachi, a red-light zone in Kolkata, India. The intervention programme started with three principal components: provision of health services including STI treatment; information, education and communication (IEC); and condom programming. The program was pivotal on ‘peer-based approach’. Recruiting sex workers from the community and providing training on health and HIV, they were promoted as peers and outreach workers. Their role was to spread HIV related messages among their colleagues and friends and also to help them avail clinical services in addition to condoms. However, over a period of time, the limitation of this approach was strongly felt by these peers, as various environmental factors like police raid, extortion by the local goons,and negative attitude of service providers as well as from a section of researchers put an insurmountable barrier before the sex workers to access and to utilize preventive services. They started recognizing that there is a need to change the programming approach from just providing services to empower individuals of community members. They felt strongly the inclusion of empowering strategies to address various structural issues what their framework of project is unable to support in long run. Number of peers started playing their role beyond health educator to more of a ‘change agent’ to collect and collectivize opinions to group formation.

Developing a positive ‘image’ as sex workers, moving beyond the binaries of moral/immoral framework what the traditional discourse is all about – the sex workers’ collective move forward to address exploitation and social discrimination of sex workers. The organisation promotes agency of the sex workers and put stress in their collective bargaining power both in accessing services related to safer sex as well as to improve working condition of sex workers. DMSC claims that for any intervention programme to succeed, it calls for socio-political activism with up to date knowledge and information, and sound skills and capacity of its staff members.

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