Sex Workers Should not Be Forgotten in Africa's COVID-19 Response

Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2020 Nov;103(5):1780-1782. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.20-1045.


COVID-19 is a global health emergency facing many countries around the world. Sex workers in Africa are among one of the vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent. Sex workers are excluded from African government safety net, and this may force some sex workers back to sex work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the nature of sex work, physical distancing and other precautionary measures are impossible to observe, further compromising COVID-19 response. Sex workers in Africa have been known to face high levels of stigma and discrimination, including limited access to healthcare services. Disruption in HIV care and prevention services due to the pandemic among this key population may have negative impacts on the hard-won achievements in HIV response in Africa. In addition, stigma and discrimination toward sex workers could also make contact tracing challenging and limit access to COVID-19 testing among this vulnerable group. With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for the UN Development Program, UN member states all pledged to ensure "no one will be left behind" and to "endeavor to reach the furthest behind first." This could not be more important than now as sex workers as a part of the population are left behind in COVID-19 response in Africa. It is important that the African government should ensure collective and inclusive response in the fight against COVID-19. Sex workers should not be forgotten in Africa's COVID-19 response because no one is safe, until all are safe.

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sex Workers*
  • Social Stigma
  • Vulnerable Populations