"We've all taken our HIV-Aids test and we're going on a hunger strike," the protest leader said inside a local Aids clinic where the prostitutes undergo regular checkups.

One woman, who chose not to be identified, said that if El Alto wants to get rid of prostitutes "then the government should give us a hand and take care of our children, and afterward provide us with jobs".

The prostitutes are also threatening to march naked down the streets of the town to defend their right to work.

Last week, many of El Alto's residents demonstrated outside the town's bars and brothels forcing them to close, complaining that they attract criminals and are a bad influence on children.

According to unofficial estimates, there are between 400 and 500 prostitutes in El Alto, earning an average income of $40 a day.