Kolkata, Apr 19: Commercial sex workers living in cramped brothels are especially susceptible to Coronavirus.
'Pre-existing diseases also make Covid-19 more dangerous for sex workers. About 80 per cent of those who contract the disease will have mild symptoms and their bodies will fight the disease, but for those who have pre-existing conditions, including HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, Covid-19 could result in severe symptoms and even death,' Dr Naresh Purohit, Visiting Professor at the Kolkata-based West Bengal University of Health Sciences, School of Public Health said here today. In India, at least 10 million women work as commercial prostitutes. Although it is illegal, flesh trade continues to thrive in the narrow lanes and corners of cities around the country.
Nearly 1.6 per cent of Indian female sex workers had HIV/AIDS in 2017, according to a 2018 study by the United Nations programme on HIV and AIDS. Many sex workers also have other health-related issues, including addiction to alcohol and tobacco and are more vulnerable to abuse, including by owners of brothels and lack a social support network because of the disdain this work is looked at with, according to a report by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Purohit, an advisor to the Association Of Studies For Human Rights, stated that a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus is causing economic problems across India.
'The measure is particularly damaging for sex workers — many of whom are finding the conditions difficult for survival. Many of them are also jobless. There has been a complete ban on their activities for weeks as a result of the coronavirus lockdown,' he pointed out.
Dr Purohit revealed that the novel Coronavirus outbreak has taken a toll on the livelihood of nearly five lakh sex-workers in West Bengal, including those residing at Kolkata’s Sonagachi, the largest red-light district in south Asia.'Ever since the outbreak made its presence felt in the state, the flow of customers has dried out. Red-light areas in West Bengal are witnessing a sharp decline in the number of customers amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, with sex workers finding it difficult to make ends meet. Sonagachi, which once witnessed at least 15,000 to 20,000 clients every day, now stands abandoned,' he said.
'The exact number of sex workers in India is unknown. A 2014 government estimate said India had 2.8 million sex workers, with most of them in the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, while a 2016 estimate by the United Nations said India had about 657,800 sex workers. Half of Maharashtra’s sex workers depend only on sex work for survival and do not have insurance. Two-fifths of sex workers in Tamil Nadu and a fifth in Karnataka are in a similar situation,' Dr Purohit said. He expressed concern that around 31 per cent sex workers living in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu remain financially insecure, making them vulnerable to poverty and unable to pay for treatment if they fall ill.
'Sex workers face massive discrimination in the South Asian country, and their work is not recognized as legal. Even after the end of lockdown, social distancing will have a negative impact on their livelihood. Sex workers won’t be able to restart their work even after the government ends the lockdown,' he added.'They will have to wait for at least a month to be sure that the pandemic is not spreading,' the physician said and urged the government to announce an economic package for sex workers so that they can survive the crisis. (UNI)