'Happy Prostitute' ads yanked from web by Brazil health official

Happy prostitute ads online were intended to encourage Brazilian sex workers to seek treatment for AIDs as part of International Prostitute Day. But criticism over the 'Happy prostitute' ads may be indicative of the growing clout of evangelical Christians in Brazil.

(AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Human rights activists create a ribbon holding red umbrellas to commemorate the World AIDS Day in downtown Brasilia, Brazil in 2011.

Brazil's health ministry on Wednesday pulled an outreach campaign urging sex workers to use condoms after coming under fire from conservative lawmakers.

"I'm happy being a prostitute" was the slogan on a web campaign for International Prostitute Day that also encouraged sex workers to not be ashamed to seek medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The campaign was published on the health ministry's website and social media sites last weekend, and has since provoked a wave of criticism, especially from evangelical legislators in Brazil's congress.

The decision is another indicator of the rise of the influence of Christian evangelism.

"According to a global survey carried out by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in 2006, Guatemala and Brazil harbor the largest communities of renewalists as a percentage of their populations: 60 percent in Guatemala and 50 percent in urban Brazil. Evangelicals have exerted growing influence in political spheres as churches, which first drew members among the poor, have become more attractive to the middle and upper classes. Chile remains deeply Catholic, but a quarter of the Catholics are now charismatic," reported The Christian Science Monitor in 2009.

"We are fighting childhood prostitution and here comes a campaign encouraging it," federal deputy Liliam Sá said in a recent congressional committee meeting.

Health Minister Alexandre Padilha, a rising star in the ruling Workers' Party who is expected to run for governor of São Paulo state next year, said in a Twitter post late Tuesday that the campaign had gone ahead without his authorization.

In the tweet, Padilha said the decision to scrap the campaign "came before any protests for or against it."

The Associated Press reported that Padilha told reporters: "I don't think this is a message the ministry should be sending. Our campaigns orient people how to avoid sexual transmitted diseases."

As The Christian Science Monitor reports, Brazil has long been a leader in Latin America when it comes to pushing international drugmakers to reduce the cost of antiretroviral drugs to fight AIDs. For example, it championed a 2005 "agreement between Latin American governments and global drug companies to reduce the price of AIDS medicines ... and regional AIDS activists say authorities must be more pro-active in identifying carriers of the HIV virus if they want to reduce hospitalizations, save on drug expenditures, and help destigmatize the disease."

(Reporting by Asher Levine; Editing by Todd Benson and Vicki Allen)

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