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Serving with a smile

P. Sujatha Varma
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Issue The startling spread of HIV/AIDS pandemic to newer areas has caught the Government unawares. The scale of services in the new areas of concern leaves much to be desired, Sonal Mehta, Director, Programme and Policy, Alliance India, tells P. Sujatha Varma

ObsessedSonal Mehta says she savours every minute she spends at workplace.Photo: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar
ObsessedSonal Mehta says she savours every minute she spends at workplace.Photo: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

Working for uplift of Manipuri women who are heavily into drugging and flesh trade was an eye-opener for her.

“Frequent reports of women being drugged, raped and robbed have hit the headlines. The series of problems in that land also expose the entrenched ethnic divisions and fissures in the civil society. Almost every tribe has armed itself while women find themselves embattled between warring groups and their bodies are the terrain the war is fought on,” says Sonal Mehta, Director (Programme and Policy), Alliance India.

The India HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance India) is a diverse partnership that brings together committed organisations and communities to support sustained responses to HIV. “We work through capacity building, knowledge sharing, technical support and advocacy. Through our network of partners, we also help implement effective, innovative, community-based HIV programmes for key populations affected by the epidemic,” she says.

While in California for a couple of years to contribute her mite to the cause of sexual reproductive health, a completely neglected area, Sonal realised that the scenario there was a different one. “Girls hide things from their parents and opt for termination of pregnancy without a frown on their forehead. When I returned home, I realised that unlike in the West, where it is basically about fund management, issues here are much more complex. So much needs to be done here.”

Alliance India is active in 19 states in this country. Referring to the fresh threat of a rise in HIV prevalence, particularly in the northern and eastern regions where districts are in the grip of the dreaded virus in States of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa, Rajasthan and Bihar, she says these States will have to start doing what Andhra Pradesh has been doing for the last 10 years ---intensify concerted efforts to curb the spread.

Working closely with the community and Government representatives to complement the several programmes aimed at creating a world in which no one dies of AIDS is what gives here a high. “We work with People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs), Men having Sex with Men (MSMs), female sex workers (FSWs) and Injected Drug Users (IDUs) to infuse a new vigour and a firm belief in them that they are as much a part of this society as any disinfected person around them.

The more hectic my work schedule gets the more rewarding it feels. It works like an energy therapy for me. I want to equip myself with an ability to heal their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being,” she says.

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