Pune can face 52 times more COVID-19-related deaths if Budhwar Peth Red Light area remains open: Experts

ST Staff
Friday, 26 June 2020

A model built by experts from Harvard Medical School and Yale Medical School projects that the city could face over 39 times more hospitalisations and 52 times more deaths in the first 120 days of reopening of the Budhwar Peth Red Light area.

Pune: A model built by experts from Harvard Medical School and Yale Medical School projects that the city could face over 39 times more hospitalisations and 52 times more deaths in the first 120 days of reopening of the Budhwar Peth Red Light area. This surge in hospital admissions could push the city over peak medical capacity very soon, experts have warned.

The experts have also warned that there could be 4,795 cumulative cases, 688 hospitalisations and 162 deaths in the Budhwar Peth Red Light area over the next year of its reopening. Hence, the experts have appealed to keep the red light area closed.

The sex workers in Budhwar Peth are currently using masks to prevent infection. They think this will stop the disease from spreading while they engage in sexual activities. But the reopening of the red light area will be a significant health risk to citizens and sex workers. Fewer sick people would be able to receive treatment causing an increase in preventable deaths.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Assistant Health Chief, Dr Sanjeev Wavare said, "If one of the persons involved in sexual activity is a potential carrier of coronavirus, there is always a danger of the other person contracting it. Medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients are using PPE kits, and still, some of them have gotten infected. This makes it clear that merely using a mask cannot prevent the danger of transmission."

Chief Advisor of NGO, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), Dr Smarajit Jana 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 advises the government 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 practised in red light areas in India, given their nature. It can result in many cases and deaths in sex workers and citizens".

Commenting on the report, co-author, Dr Sudhakar Nuti from Harvard Medical School, said, "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 the red light area in Pune remains closed until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed to protect sex workers and the population at large."

Recommendations by Experts

Sex workers need opportunities to gain skills that employ lower-risk jobs
Sex workers should explore alternative employment options
Work on an exit strategy for sex workers including "transitional housing, bank loans, and alternate employment"

Worst Case Scenarios

Mumbai's Kamathipura, Grant Road and Faulkland Road Red Light Area
3,494 cases
486 hospitalisations
114 deaths

Nagpur's Itwari Chowk
1,667 cases
236 hospitalised
56 deaths

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