The National AIDS Control Organisation supports anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for every person with HIV through the nearly 4,000 Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC) in Government hospitals. Persons are counselled and tested for HIV, of their own will or as advised by a medical provider. Those with a CD4 count of less than 250 are administered ARV while those with a count greater than 250 are provided information on the modes of HIV transmission and counselled on behavioural change to reduce vulnerability. They are also linked with prevention, care and treatment services. ICTCs in maternity hospitals help prevent transmission from infected pregnant women to infants. NACO's challenge is to make people with HIV adopt a healthy lifestyle; access treatment, and help prevent further transmission. Sub-populations that are more vulnerable or practise high-risk behaviour are the target group for counselling and testing services.
ARADHANA JOHRI, IAS
NACO, New Delhi
Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection In India (SAATHII) focusses on preventing mother-to-child transmission, preventing HIV and STDs in sexual minorities, provision of family-centered care and decentralisation of HIV/AIDS care to the village level in eight States. To some extent, gender concerns lie at the heart of India's response to HIV, but we need to empower women and promote tools that can help them negotiate their sexual encounters (through female condoms, microbicides), protect their rights with reference to property, and provide them with better livelihood options. The traditional roles of man-woman, husband-wife, provider-homemaker, must be re-imagined. Interventions encouraging specific behavioural changes can have a large impact on reducing women's vulnerability to HIV. Financial and psycho-social support in caring for family members with HIV and financial schemes for widows and grandmothers who care for affected children is a must.
Dr. SAI SUBHASREE RAGHAVAN
Caring for children
Nearly 50,000 children below the age of 15 are annually infected by HIV. Care and support response to these children is minimal, but the National AIDS/HIV Control Project III plans to improve this through early diagnosis and treatment of HIV-exposed children, guidelines on paediatric HIV care, and nutritional, educational, recreational and skill development support. We provide free medical care and education fees to children with and affected by HIV. We work with 24 hospitals in the four Southern States to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Adolescent health education is important to stop the spread of AIDS.
Dr. Glory Alexander
ASHA Foundation, Bangalore
Table HIV Bill soon
I am a HIV-positive widow living with the virus for the past 11 years. I now coordinate HIV advocacy work, especially for people with HIV whose rights have been violated. As a member of Indian Network of Positive People (INP+), currently I am meeting MPs urging them to table the HIV Bill soon. Pre-marital counselling should be mandatory; testing, however, would violate the rights of women and expose them to stigma if they test positive. Health care systems should not discriminate against those with HIV. Nutrition for people on ARV is very important; so is a child-friendly health and counselling service and free legal support. I dream of a society where children and adults with HIV are accepted as they are.
Advocacy Officer and Network Coordinator, World Vision India
and Member, INP+, Chennai
The will to live
I first revealed that I was HIV positive in a Tamil television programme. My husband died of AIDS when my daughter was two and the initial years were a struggle. I was educated only upto Class IX and the only support came from my immediate family. However, Anand Kumar, the HIV counsellor at the Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital (CMCH) changed my outlook towards AIDS and how I dealt with it. Through his encouragement and that of others I completed my Masters in Sociology and a diploma in counselling. I now work as a counsellor at the ICTC, CMCH. My work involves counselling pregnant women on mother-to-child transmission and motivating both husband and wife to undergo testing. I also volunteer with the HIV Uloor Nala Sangam where we offer peer counselling, address rights issues of people with HIV and inform them of support services and schemes. Most families have now accepted people living with HIV in their homes but societal stigma continues.