Closing Red Light Areas Could Reduce COVID-19 Deaths by 63%: Study

The study suggests that this move can reduce the number of COVID cases by 72% in a period of 45-days in India.

3 min read
The study suggests that this move can reduce the number of COVID cases by 72% in a period of 45-days

A group of academics from Yale School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School say closing red light areas could reduce COVId-19 cases by 72% in 45 days. The study ‘Modelling the Effect of Continued Closure of Red-Light Areas on COVID-19 Transmission in India,’ finds that Indians are at a much lower risk of getting COVID-19 if red light areas are kept closed after the lockdown. And they are advocating for keeping them closed till an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.

The study has now been shared with government of India and various state governments. It suggests that this move can reduce the number of cases by 72% in a period of 45-days and delay the peak of COVID-19 cases by 17 days, giving governments time to start protection measures as we walk into lockdown 4.0.

The study also states that there could be a 63% 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 Organisation (NACO) and over 5 lakh customers visit the red-light areas on a daily basis. The high transmission rate is because social distancing is not possible during the sex act. 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.

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.

This is how it will delay peak in some cities:

  • Mumbai: Delayed peak by 12 days

  • Delhi: 17 days

  • Pune: 29 days

  • Nagpur: 30 days

  • Kolkata: 36 days

In terms of reduction in deaths in first 60 days:

  • Overall India: 63%

  • Mumbai: 28%

  • New Delhi: 38%

  • Pune: 43%

  • Nagpur: 61%

  • Kolkata: 66%

Commenting on the report, co-author, Dr. Jefferey Townsend, Professor of Biostatistics, Yale School of Medicine said, “At the release of lockdown, there is a very high potential for the increase in the cases, and hence, a modulated approach is warranted," he adds,

"The actual scenario will depend on behaviour of individuals and our model does not predict how individuals will behave. The purpose of our modelling exercises in 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.”

Other countries that have shut brothels include Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. 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”, claims the report.


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 Indian government’s early measures to prevent the high growth in COVID-19 cases have flattened the curve in the country. 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 lockdown and can gain another 17 days of delay by keeping these places closed."

The study suggests it could also help save the lives of thousands of sex workers, and suggests governments extend support in terms of financial aid and rehabilitation to them.

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