Around 21 lakh Indians are living with HIV, and 69,000 people have died from AIDS-related illness, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 2018.
While there has been attention from the government in addressing these figures, it is not the illness alone that makes it difficult to cope for the population living with HIV/AIDS, but the stigma that comes with it.
Since the virus is mostly passed via sexual intercourse, there has been a lot of stress on the need for sex education in schools to promote safe sexual practices. Although the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has incorporated sex education in its syllabus, the country falls dismally short of expectations when it comes to implementation of safe sex practices.
Baby steps as they may be, more is being done by individuals and organisations that are now stepping in to educate the public and help those infected lead a healthy life.
On World AIDS Day, we take stock of some of the good work done by non-profits in India spearheading the change.
Naz Foundation (India) Trust
Human and animal rights activist Anjali Gopalan founded the Naz Foundation in 1994. Naz provides home-based care as well as outreach through clinical services and telephone-based counselling. The foundation also raises awareness on sexual health, in terms of prevention and treatment of illnesses. Many of the services and awareness programmes were designed for homosexual people as well. The organisation was also a long-time fighter to abolish the infamous Section 377 that discriminates the LGBTQ+ community.
Besides, Naz Foundation’s petition stating the discriminatory practices in society against HIV/AIDS infected people led to the Supreme Court’s decision to include HIV/AIDS infected children as ‘disadvantaged’ under Right to Education Law. The foundation has reported cases where such students were denied admission or treated differently and often made to clean toilets at school.
India HIV/AIDS Alliance
India HIV/AIDS Alliance was founded in 1999 to protect the rights and improve health conditions of those dealing with the epidemic. The organisation focuses on sex workers, LGBTQ+ community, and People Who Inject Drugs (PWID), and others who are prone to infection or living with it.
Programmes initiated so far include Ujwala, which is improving access to sexual reproductive health services, and Vihaan, which facilitates care and support in 350 treatment centres and helping shatter the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in collaboration with Department of AIDS Control.
Through its Pehchan programme, the organisation also came up with a campaign called 207 against 377 protesting the Supreme Court’s judgment to uphold Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in December 2013.
Alliance India is also an accredited member of the global network of Linking Organisations of the Frontline AIDS.
Launched in 2005, Desire Society helps children who are either living with HIV/AIDS or had their parents succumb to it. It focuses on providing institutional care for such children as most schools refuse to admit them, as they fear losing out on other students from well-to-do families.
The organisation’s care home in Bengaluru has been running since 2008 and takes care of around 30 children—aged five to 18—with special attention given to their education. The non-profit also organises nutritional supplementary camps to expand the life expectancy of the children by raising their immunity. The programme has benefited around 150 children living with HIV/AIDS so far.
Currently, present in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Visakhapatnam, Desire Society also holds summer camps in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. The children engage in educational and fun-filled activities such as science exhibition and they are given school stationery and daily utility kits.
Mumbai-based Neptune Foundation hopes to uplift people living with HIV/AIDS in the most practical way through their HIV Nutrition Project. Under this, 50 HIV-positive patients receive monthly ration comprising 3kg dal, 7kg rice, 7kg wheat, 2kg sugar, 1litre oil, 200grams protein powder, 1kg tea powder, and monthly vitamin supplements.
Moreover, as many people hailing from rural areas tend to be unaware of government schemes that can be availed, the Foundation steps in to bridge the gap and connects them with Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Pension Yojana and Bal-Sangopan Yojana schemes.
Established in 2010, the foundation focuses on more than just HIV/AIDS patients and also looks into access to education for underprivileged and training artisans as well.
Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII)
Chennai-based non-profit organisation SAATHII promotes sexual and reproductive health, and the upholding of human rights. Founded in 2000, it strives to provide access to rights, health, legal, and social services for those who are denied based on HIV status, gender, and sexuality.
SAATHII’s website is a resource bank for patients, featuring detailed information on the treatment and care facilities available across states.
It has reached out to over 1.2 million pregnant women and tested them for HIV, and has trained over 18,000 healthcare providers.
The organisation has launched Project Subhiksha in 11 states to increase screening facility for HIV, STI, and TB among at-risk population, including prisoners.
It is also handling a prestigious EU-backed project, empowering Women Living with or Affected by HIV/AIDS (WLAHIV), through Property Ownership and Legal Literacy (POLL), in collaboration with Positive Women Network (PWN+). It is aimed at empowering women by educating them about the legal rights related to properties and domestic violence.