Nagpur: A heavily drunk man lay near a pan shop, with flies hovering over his face. He attracted little attention of the female sex workers (FSWs) who stood there wooing customers. Cops kept a strict vigil at all the entrances. It’s a normal day at the Ganga Jamuna red light area as Red Cross Society workers moved door to door.
They were armed with the guidelines on monkeypox issued by the state government around a fortnight ago. “You know madam says there is a new disease called monkeypox. We have been watchful of chickenpox like spots on the person’s body,” said one of the women, as the other listened with bewilderment.
With sex workers and homosexuals considered to be the vulnerable segment, for Hemlata Lohave, the project manager of Red Cross here, creating awareness about monkeypox is an added duty now.
“Look for symptoms like swelling near the ears, spots or rashes on the skin, fever or tiredness. These are symptoms of monkeypox. The disease spreads through sexual contact and proximity also,” she said as the women pay attention to her. “It seems like Covid,” reacts one of them.
Lohave and her team have been creating awareness on HIV, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. “They (FSWs) are quite aware of HIV control as they insist on condoms and also get themselves tested time to time. However, monkeypox is new,” said Lohave and added that the guidelines are silent about prevention from patients without symptoms.
One of the women said that even otherwise they don’t entertain clients who appear sick or are unhygienic. There have been some incidents of clients collapsing due to heart attack. “Anyone who is apparently tired or wants to rest for a while before the act is straightaway asked to leave,” said another.
A woman, a migrant form Gwalior, said she would look for the symptoms. “The spots can be easily seen on the body,” she said. “It’s a question of our lives,” said another.
It also spreads through breath, added Lohave. “So, we shall wear masks even during the act. We have done this during Covid too,” said a FSW.
There are over 1,000 FSWs in the area and Lohave says not all have been informed about monkeypox yet. The drive continues.
“There is no business due to police crackdown. Maybe this will indirectly prevent the spread,” said Lohave.
Women whom TOI spoke to said more than the disease, it is the crackdown by police which concerns them. Lohave was wary whether the FSWs would be careful. “Already desperate due to the crackdown, I doubt if many may even bother about all the dos and don’ts if they get a client,” she said.
“Business was down during Covid which was followed by police crackdown. They are guarding each and every corner. Clients come till the lane but don’t dare to enter,” said an older woman and added, “This has left us starving we cannot afford to send our kids to school there is no money for medical emergency even.”
The state government had granted them a Covid dole of Rs5,000 a month. “Before that we were arrested following raids. The money was spent in furnishing surety for our release,” said another woman.
Dr Milind Bhrushundi said awareness on the disease should be carried out in the population at large rather than singling out particular segment.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Nitin Shinde said there is less likelihood of monkeypox spreading from asymptomatic persons and “those with the symptoms can be identified”.