WHO South East Asia J Public Health. 2020 Sep;9(2):100-103. doi: 10.4103/2224-3151.294301.
The Government of Thailand was prompt to launch social and economic measures to mitigate the effects on the general population following lockdown measures to counter coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, sex workers were one of the vulnerable groups who were unable to access state support. A rapid survey of sex workers in Thailand showed that almost all had become unemployed and lost their income as a consequence of the lockdown, restrictions on international flights into the country and the closure of entertainment venues. Most were unable to cover the costs of food and shelter for themselves and their dependents. COVID-19 had also disrupted testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and HIV services for sex workers. As in other countries, community-based organizations were essential to providing an immediate, short-term COVID-19 response for sex workers. Also as in other countries, the pandemic has demonstrated that many people’s health and well-being depends on very fragile foundations. This presents a clear opportunity to build back better by committing to a longer-term vision for the overall societal inclusion of sex workers. Thailand should advocate for decriminalization of sex work and ensure sex workers are entitled to equal labour rights and inclusion in the government social protection programme. Progress in innovative government initiatives aimed at ending HIV stigma and discrimination show how structural change can come about through harnessing community-based organizations. In turn, HIV services for sex workers need to expand and incorporate targeted interventions to reduce sex workers’ occupational susceptibility to COVID-19.