COVID-19: US study red-flags red-light areas of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi

The study by a coalition of experts from Harvard Medical School and Yale School of Medicine has warned of a staggering 400,000-plus infections and over 12,000 deaths among red-light area workers

Photo courtesy- Twitter
Photo courtesy- Twitter


A new study by academics from two leading US universities have called for shutting red-light areas to save thousands of sex workers from the scourge of COVID-19.

The study by a coalition of experts from Harvard Medical School and Yale School of Medicine has warned of a staggering 400,000-plus infections and over 12,000 deaths among red-light area workers and residents in a year if these red-light districts are reopened.

It has cautioned that India would require 70 per cent more hospital beds by the time the pandemic peaks if red-light areas are reopened, push India over the peak medical capacity faster. Fewer sick people would then be able to receive treatment, causing an increase in preventable deaths.

It said that Maharashtra could be among the worst-affected states, and that Pune's Budhwar Peth would see nearly 4,800 cases, around 700 admitted to hospitals and over 160 deaths.

Similarly, Mumbai's notorious Kamathipura, Grant Road and Falkland Street could see nearly 3,500 cases, almost 500 hospitalisations, and more than 110 deaths.

Next would be Nagpur's Itwari Chowk with over 1,600 cases, more than 235 in hospitals, and more than 55 deaths.

This would take the state's total to over 9,900 cases, more than 1,400 hospitalisations and 325-plus fatalities.

New Delhi's GB Road red-light area would also be at a high risk, with over 2,700 cases, more than 385 cases in hospitals, and 90-plus deaths.

According to the study, West Bengal's red light areas would experience over 2,000 deaths of sex workers and locals if they are reopened.

However, more than 90 per cent of the cases and deaths in cities like Kolkata, Pune and Nagpur could be prevented before the pandemic peaks by shutting down the red-light areas, suggested the study.

Co-authored by Yale University's Dr Abhishek Pandey and Harvard Medical School's Dr Sudhakar Nuti, the study has other interesting revelations to make.

"It is impossible to practice social distancing in red-light areas, and that sex workers, pimps and brothel managers are at higher risk of infection. By keeping red-light areas closed, thousands of deaths among the residents there can be averted," said Pandey.

"The Indian government has implemented smart and effective measures to flatten the curve, but it is unlikely for the pandemic to be resolved until there is a vaccine. It is therefore important that red-light areas remain closed until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed to protect the sex workers and the population at large," averred Nuti.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) Chief Advisor Smarajit Jana said: "It will be dangerous if the sex workers are allowed to operate as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Due to their nature of work and the congested living conditions, a single case can infect a hundred persons."

DMSC is West Bengal's NGO with a membership of around 65,000 sex workers spread over 50 red-light areas in that state.

Similarly, Dr Sahayakan, member of Code Red Coalition -- a global body of medicos and researchers advising governments on prevention of COVID-19 spread -- said: "None of the protection measures like distancing, masks, or sanitisation can effectively stop COVID-19 transmission during sex. It cannot be practiced safely in red-light areas in India given their nature, and can result in many cases and deaths."

The study recommends that sex workers need to skill up to get employment in lower-risk jobs and a beginning has been made in places like Andhra Pradesh.

The scientific model used in the study was applied to several India cities, with the projections that it could reduce cases and deaths by over 90 per cent in Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Jalgaon, Satara, Meerut, Silchar, Kolkata, and Durgapur; and over 60 per cent in Thane, Sangli, New Delhi, Guntur, and Sonarpur.

Entitled 'Modelling the Effect of Continued Closure of Red-Light Areas on COVID-19 Transmission in India', the study was conducted by Yale's Center for Infectious Disease Modelling & Analysis' Pandey, Pratha Sah, Chad Wells, Alison P. Galvani, and Harvard's Nuti and Jeffrey P. Townsend, and has been shared with authorities concerned in India.

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