Crack, AIDS, and Women in São Paulo, Brazil

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Nappo, Solange Aparecida [UNIFESP]
Sanchez, Zila [UNIFESP]
De Oliveira, Lucio Garcia [UNIFESP]
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Brazil is currently experiencing a growing number of newly recorded cases of HIV infection among women, with transmission mainly occurring by sex. This increase may be associated with the development of sexually risky behavior among female crack users who, according to informal reports, prostitute themselves for drugs or for money to be used for buying drugs. Since epidemiologic studies have not yet addressed this phenomenon, the aim of this study was to investigate this in depth using a qualitative ethnographic approach. An intentional sample was utilized, composed of 75 female crack users in São Paulo, who were selected by specific criteria using the snowball strategy and key informants. Fourteen different chains of users were investigated, allowing us to include the largest possible number and variety of users. Each participant was submitted to a semi-structured in-depth interview that was guided by a questionnaire. Verbal information was corroborated and extended using participative observation. These 14-45-year-old women, who had little schooling and no job connections, opted to sell their bodies as a strategy to obtain drugs and to satisfy their compulsive use of crack. the subjects engaged in up to nine acts of sexual intercourse per day, in unsafe locations and with multiple partners who were approached in a besieging way and selected using subjective criteria. These crack users generally exchanged sex under craving for ridiculously low prices and left the use of protection up to the client. Because the users used inadequate pipes to smoke crack, it was common for them to have lesions on their lips and mouths. Since they often provided oral sex, they exposed themselves to considerable risk for infection with STDs including HIV, because of the contact of their partners'' semen with their open wounds. These women make up an important risk group with respect to the transmission of STDs including AIDS.
Substance Use & Misuse. London: Informa Healthcare, v. 46, n. 4, p. 476-485, 2011.