Modified and comprehensive access to sex worker services in a COVID pandemic
With the begining of the global crisis caused by the СOVID-19 virus, a number of consequences were created that required an integrated approach to address them. HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje, successfully dealt with all the challenges brought by this global pandemic. In order to protect our clients, sex workers and people who use drugs, HOPS has adjusted the working conditions and the implementation of services, both in the Day Centers and in the out-reach activities, respecting the protection measures from СOVID-19 recommended by the Government of RSM.
We applied to all ad-hoc grants available in our country, as well as strengthened the cooperation with our partner donors. In this way we managed to maintain the quality of our services, not to allow the increase of the low HIV prevalence among sex workers and enabled the availability of all services that were conducted before the pandemic (regular HIV testing and access to social, legal and psychological services). We showed the care for the health and rights of sex workers during the pandemic.
Also one of the most important benefits was that during a pandemic we prevent HIV epidemic among sex workers.
During this extremely difficult period, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, sex workers faced a number of challenges. Due to strict legal restrictions, especially the curfews and closure of restaurants, sex workers faced drastic reductions in work and income, which for some were the only means of subsistence. Due to the nature of sex work, these measures also reduced the number of clients using the services of sex workers. During this period, the Government of RSM adopted a series of economic measures for the citizens, but because sex work is not recognized in our country, sex workers can not use these measures. Only some sex workers took advantage of government measures aimed at citizens who are part of the informal economy. Also sex workers were at high risk of domestic violence.
To make it easier to overcome the effects of the СOVID-19 crisis, especially on sex workers who have been directly affected, HOPS has implemented several governmental and non-governmental projects, providing material assistance to sex workers (food, hygiene kits, immunostimulants, funds for disinfection and protective masks as prevention by СOVID-19). They were constantly and timely informed about the new measures adopted by the Government of the RSM, especially those for curfews, in order to protect sex workers from criminal charges. Information materials were continuously distributed on how to protect themselves from СOVID-19, to recognize the symptoms in time and where to go if they notice a certain symptom in them or a member of their family. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working on protection of the mental health and and socio-economic rights of sex workers, through constant free psychological support, as one of the mechanisms for dealing with anxiety in this group of people.
The comprehensive access to services provided by HOPS during the СOVID-19 crisis has resulted in a small number of sex workers being infected with this virus. By providing material assistance, we managed to improve the socio-economic situation of sex workers, to improve their mental health through continuous psychological support, to have access to all services despite the modified way of working and thus not enough to increase human rights violations by sex workers. HOPS will continue to advocate for the promotion of the rights of sex workers and will contribute to a better status in the society of sex workers.