BANGALORE: Under a project facilitated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, about 500 sex workers in Mysore own chip-embedded smart cards, which when presented during transactions help them get discounts at select shops and hotels and earn them loyalty points that can be redeemed for discounts on later purchases. The shopping basket can include provisions, food at restaurants and clothes.
But the card serves another purpose. It has the medical record of the sex worker, who has to compulsorily get his or her health check up at a clinic once in three months. The card becomes inactive if the holder fails to do this. The sex workers will be checked for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and treatment provided if necessary.
The vendors and the health specialists are provided with Simputer, the homegrown handheld device developed by scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), to bridge the digital divide and the data is stored in real time at a central server to maintain confidentiality.
The encrypted card bars access of health records by traders, while doctors cannot find out the business transaction details. “Sex workers face stigma and discrimination in their daily life. The smart card is a symbol of self-esteem that creates a sense of inclusion for them in the society,” Ratna, a community member at Ashodaya, a non-government organisation (NGO) that works on AIDS, said.
The smart card initiative is being implemented by Ashodaya Women’s Co-ordination Committee, Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT) and Pennant Consulting Services.
KHPT reaches about 1400 female and around 200 male sex workers active in Mysore city and most of them conduct their business during the day. They earn anywhere between Rs200 and Rs1,500 a day. “It is not uncommon for us to buy as many as three new saris a month. Looking attractive is essential in our trade,” Pushpa, a sex worker, said. KHPT officials said that the smart card initiative came from discussion with the sex workers, who identified an incentive of discounts with a health card to be a better alternative than a pure health card.