There are delays in diagnosis and treatment which affect their health, the women say

When Selvi went to the government hospital in Erode for treatment for a fibroid in her uterus, she was turned away.

Hospital staff told her it was nothing major, and that she did not require surgery. But at the private hospital where she was first diagnosed, doctors had told her to get rid of the fibroid.

Selvi, who lives with HIV/AIDS, was later diagnosed with a tumour that had spread to her ovaries. She had to undergo a surgery at a private hospital, which set her back by her Rs. 40, 000.

“I did not have enough money and could barely afford the treatment,” she said. People living with HIV/AIDS do not benefit from the State-sponsored health insurance scheme either,” she added.

Many women such as Selvi face much distress when they attempt to seek treatment at State-run hospitals.

K. Lakshmi from Virudhunagar for instance, said seven women she knew had to go to Madurai several times for treatment, as their local hospital in Virudhunagar would not treat them. “The hospital handles deliveries and reproductive health-related issues. But the moment they found out that we live with HIV/AIDS, we were sent to Madurai,” she said.

According to her, six of the 26 women who underwent screening for cervical cancer at the Virudhunagar hospital tested positive, and though further testing could be done there, they were referred to the GH in Madurai. Several women said the problem persists in Namakkal district too, once considered the hotbed of HIV infection.

Non-governmental organisations to which these women belong said they had discussed the issue with senior officials of the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project, Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (Tansacs) and the health secretary, but the discrimination continued.

At a programme held in the city on Thursday, the women shared their suffering with Tansacs project director, Kumar Jayant.

The hostility of healthcare workers and doctors, they said, has led to their health often taking a turn for the worse. Selvi suffered from excessive bleeding for over 18 months before her surgery.

The women say delaying treatment for such conditions could lead to further health complications.

They demanded screening facilities for cervical cancer to be made available at all healthcare centres that have integrated counselling and testing centres. This was especially important, they said, as women living with HIV/AIDS were more vulnerable to cervical cancer.

Several NGOs including Palmyrah Rural Development Society and HIV/AIDS Alliance have also drafted a recommendation seeking PAP smear tests (diagnostic tests for cervical cancer) for women living with HIV/AIDS, as per the guidelines of the National AIDS Control Organisation.

The women should be allowed to undergo examination and surgery at the district headquarters hospitals and not be made to run around for the treatment, they said.

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