WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health
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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 104-106

Community action for people with HIV and sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in India

1 University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
2 All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India
3 Ashodaya Samithi, Mysore, India
4 WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr Sushena Reza-Paul
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg
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DOI: 10.4103/2224-3151.294302

PMID: 32978341

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Sex workers have been one of the marginalized groups that have been particularly affected by India’s stringent lockdown in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The sudden loss of livelihood and lack of access to health care and social protection intensified the vulnerabilities of sex workers, especially those living with HIV. In response, Ashodaya Samithi, an organization of more than 6000 sex workers, launched an innovative programme of assistance in four districts in Karnataka. Since access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) was immediately disrupted, Ashodaya adapted its HIV outreach programme to form an alternative, community-led system of distributing ART at discreet, private sites. WhatsApp messaging was used to distribute information on accessing government social benefits made available in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other assistance included advisory messages posted in WhatsApp groups to raise awareness, dispel myths and mitigate violence, and regular, discreet phone check-ins to follow up on the well-being of members. The lessons learnt from these activities represent an important opportunity to consider more sustainable approaches to the health of marginalized populations that can enable community organizations to be better prepared to respond to other public health crises as they emerge.

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