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Bolivian sex workers on hunger strike

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Sex workers in the Bolivian city of El Alto have gone on hunger strike to demand a solution to the month-long doctor's strike which has forced the closure of public hospitals across the country.

About a dozen male and female sex workers, many with their faces covered, crowded into the lobby of a neighbourhood health centre on Sunday, vowing to continue their action until the situation is resolved.

At times they chanted "Useless minister, we want a solution!", a reference to Bolivian Health Minister Juan Carlos Calvimontes.

The workers claim their personal health, as well as that of the wider community, is at risk as they are not receiving their weekly check-ups at local public hospitals and clinics because of the doctor's strike.

Bolivian doctors are on strike over the length of their working hours.

"We used to have our weekly check-ups, but now that there's a strike, it's been more than a month since we've been checked," explained Lilli Cortez, president of the Organisation of Night Workers, a local group formed by sex workers to defend their rights.

"There could be an outbreak of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) or HIV/AIDS if the women aren't checked," she added.

There are about 45,000 sex workers registered in Bolivia.

The country's laws require that they undergo free weekly check-ups in order to work on the streets and in brothels.

"We hope this will be solved once and for all because they are playing with our lives, with our health," said Jacqueline, one of the sex workers participating in the hunger strike.

"You can't play with health," she said. "It's a time bomb that is going to explode at any moment. The lives of the entire population is at stake here."

According to authorities in El Alto, a town 12km from the capital La Paz, there are about 2,500 bars and brothels in the local area, only 350 of which are legal.


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