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India could avoid 72% of Covid-19 cases by closing red light areas post lockdown: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on May 17, 2020 Published on May 17, 2020

Academicians from Yale School of Medicine (YSM) and Harvard Medical School have completed a study ‘Modelling the Effect of Continued Closure of Red-Light Areas on Covid-19 Transmission in India’.

The study finds that Indians are at a much lower risk of getting Covid-19 if red light areas are kept closed after the lockdown until an effective treatment or vaccine for Covid-19 is developed. This intervention can help the Indian government significantly reduce the risk of citizens getting Covid-19.

The findings of the research conducted by YSM has been shared with the Centre along with a recommendation to continue the closure of red-light areas (RLAs) beyond full nation-wide reopening as it can reduce the number of cases by 72 per cent in a period of 45-days and delay the peak of Covid-19 cases by 17 days.

Findings of the study

The study concludes that the delay in the peak will provide the government more time to plan and execute measures to protect public health and economy, as India moves in Lockdown 4.0.

The study also states that there could be a 63 per cent reduction in the number of deaths in the first 60 days after the lockdown ends if red-light areas are kept closed.

In India, there are close to 6,37,500 sex workers as per the National Aids Control Organization (NACO) and over 5 lakh customers visit the red-light areas on a daily basis. The study shows that if the red-light areas start operating, the disease will spread extremely quickly and infect a very high percentage of sex workers and customers.

The high transmission rate is because social distancing is not possible. The infected customers could spread the disease to lakhs of other citizens. Therefore, these red-light areas have a combination of factors that can create a major hotspot. This hotspot can create a large percentage of the disease spread after lockdown ends, the study states.

To protect citizens against this, the study recommends keeping red light areas closed indefinitely, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report highlights the impact of red-light areas across India and in five Indian cities which are currently in the red-zone and account for some of the largest red-light areas in the country with large numbers of sex workers.

Observations

As per the study, if red-light areas are kept closed following the lifting of lockdown, there can be a delay in the peak of Covid-19 cases by up to 12 days in Mumbai, 17 days in New Delhi, 29 days in Pune, 30 days in Nagpur, and 36 days in Kolkata.

Further, it can reduce Covid-19 cases by 21 per cent in Mumbai, 27 per cent in Pune, 31 per cent in New Delhi, 56 per cent in Nagpur, and 66 per cent in Kolkata in a 45-day period. The report shows that the closure of red-light areas can significantly reduce deaths by 63 per cent in India.

Commenting on the report, co-author, Dr Jefferey Townsend, Professor of Biostatistics, Yale School of Medicine stated in an official statement: “At the release of lockdown, there is a very high potential for the increase in the cases, and hence, a modulated approach is warranted. The actual scenario will depend on the behaviour of individuals and our model does not predict how individuals will behave. The purpose of our modeling exercises is not to predict what will happen in the future, but to understand the effect of the intervention on the future. Our study findings show that there is a strong effect of the red-light area closures, especially immediately following the lockdown.”

Speaking about the Covid-19 situation in India, co-author of the report, Dr. Sudhakar Nuti, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School said, “The continued closure of red-light areas would build on the successes achieved by the government in lockdown. India gained around 40 days of delay in the peak through a lockdown and can gain another 17 days of delay by keeping these places closed.”

The suggested intervention will also help potentially save the lives of thousands of sex workers across India. It also suggests measures to the government to address the health, safety, and well-being of sex workers in RLAs like reliefs as part of the government’s financial relief scheme. The study says that this will also help to reintegrate sex workers into other occupations given the closure.

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Published on May 17, 2020
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