Study from Academicians from Yale School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School
- Closing red light area could save lives inMeerut
Meerut: According to a coalition of experts, Meerutcould see a significant surge in COVID-19 cases,hospitalizations, and deaths if theKabadi BazarRed-Light Areaopens. However, an extendedclosure of the red light area could reduce cumulative COVID-19 cases and deaths by over 90% by the peak of the epidemic. The model projects an additional 50 days of delay in the peak if theKabadi Bazar red light area remains closed. The model was developed at Harvard Medical School and the Yale School of Medicine. More information can be found at www.CodeRedCOVID.org.
The model shows that if theKabadi Bazar red-light area starts operating, the disease will spread quickly in the red light area and infect a large percentage of sex workers and customers.The high transmission rate is because social distancing is not possible during sex. The infected customers would spread the disease throughout the citycausing a huge surge in cases.Meerut could face 35 times more deaths in the first 100 days after lockdown if the red light area reopened. This would push Meerut over peak medical capacity sooner. Fewer sick people would be able to receive treatment causing an increase in preventable deaths. The red light area has a combination of factors that could make it the largest hotspot in Meerut.
Prominent politicians in Germany called for brothels to close permanently and wrote letters to the premiers of all German states stating, “It should be obvious that prostitutes could become epidemiological ‘super spreaders’ — sexual activities are, as a rule, not compatible with social distancing measures”. The German lawmakers stated, “Re-opening the brothels will not help these women…Instead, they need apprenticeships, training or work in a secure job.”
Speaking about the findings, Dr. Abhishek Pandey, Yale University, co-author of the study said, “Residents of red light areas including sex workers, pimps, and brothel managers are at higher risk of infection.“Smarajit Jana, a doctor and chief advisor of West Bengal’s largest NGO working with sex workers, Durbar MahilaSamanwaya Committee (DMSC), said “It would be of great danger if the sex workers are allowed to operate as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Due to their nature of work and the congested way in which they live, one single case can infect a hundred”.
Dr.Sahayakan, a member of Code Red Coalition, a global coalition of doctors and researchers that is advising governments on how to prevent COVID-19 spread said, “None of the protection measures like distancing, masks, or sanitising can effectively stop COVID-19 transmission during sex work. Sex work cannot be safely practiced in red light areas in India given their nature. It can result in many cases and deaths in sex workers and citizens”.
Japan did not close down red light areas in-time and saw an “explosion” in cases because of a red light area that left local hospitals “overwhelmed”.Commenting on the report, co-author, Dr. Sudhakar Nuti, Harvard Medical School, said “While the Indian government has implemented smart and effective measures to flatten the curve, it is unlikely for the pandemic to be resolved until there is a vaccine for the population. It is therefore important that the Kabadi Bazar Red Light Area remains closed until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed to protect sex workers and the people of Uttar Pradesh.”Government restrictions on this part of the informal economy have not been outlined in COVID-19 directives, but a sex worker in Mumbai was quoted in a media story stating “There will be no business in Kamathipura for at least next two years. We can only return when there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.”
The study recommends that sex workers need opportunities to gain skills that provide employment in lower-risk jobs. Recent media reports showthat some sex workers have begunexploring other employment options. In Andhra Pradesh, a collective has asked for an exit strategy for sex workers including “transitional housing, bank loans, and alternate employment”.The efforts to close the red light area and help sex workers find lower risk jobs would save many lives in Meerut.
About the Study
The study ‘Modelling the Effect of Continued Closure of Red-Light Areas on COVID-19 Transmission in India’ was conducted by Abhishek Pandey, Pratha Sah, Chad Wells, Alison P. Galvani at Center for Infectious Disease Modeling & Analysis, Yale University, Sudhakar V. Nuti at Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Jeffrey P. Townsend, Department of Biostatistics, Yale School of Public Health.The coalition, Code Red COVID,consists of doctors and researchers from across 14 countries thatare advising governments on the threat of high-risk hotspots including red light areas.The model for the study was applied by the coalition to red light areas across India including in Meerut.