The Bridge of Hope: Building safe sex into Thailand’s infrastructure

JTF image

In conjunction with contractors, the Japan Trust Fund (JTF) ensured that the safety and security of construction workers building the 2nd Thailand Laos Friendship Bridge became a 24-hour concern. 

On the Mekong river they say:
“helmet for every site, condom for every night”

Massive construction projects demand massive amounts of manpower. In both the developing and developed world, labourers are often temporary, unskilled, migrant and young, and predominantly male. Living conditions can be poor, sites isolated and workers may end up separated from home and family for months on end. Evening entertainment revolves round local bars and beer holes, and recreation is frequently a macho mix of drink and sex, driven by a ready supply of cash. Women purposefully frequent the area to sell sex, while barmaids, waiters and barstaff engage in informal sex work. 

As a result, construction workers and the local community are more vulnerable to HIV. At 3 immense East Asian infrastructure developments funded by the Government of Japan, JTF backed HIV education programmes in conjunction with IPPF Member Associations in Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Associations at each site adopted tactics and strategies to prevent and treat HIV: counselling, testing, mobile clinics, posters, leafleting, peer-education and entertainment/information evenings (“karaoke and condoms”).

Every project produced measurable improvements in awareness and behaviour. At JTF’s Bridge of Hope project, for example, HIV and AIDS awareness among construction workers hit 92% (compared to the local average of 62%). This work is now feeding into a widespread international movement to establish workplace policies for HIV and AIDS. Policies which not only recognize the devastating personal impact of HIV on individuals lives, but also the financial impact of poor HIV and AIDS education on companies and whole national economies. It is a message which will take considerable time to impress upon international policy makers, but a lot less time to communicate to construction workers. As the poster says, “Helmet for every site, condom for every night”.