Primary stakeholders in anti-HIV drive

C. Maya

Phase III of the National AIDS Control Programme in State

‘Maithri’ becomes the first Targeted Intervention project to be directly run by the beneficiaries.

Thiruvananthapuram: When 300-odd women from marginalised sections, including sex workers, got together in the city a few weeks ago under the banner of ‘Maithri,’ it was an affirmation of their courage and responsibility to be part of the mainstream and to fight the battle against HIV.

For Soma, the NGO which organised the get-together, and Kerala State AIDS Control Society (KSACS), this is yet another step forward in their attempt to involve primary stakeholders in HIV prevention programmes in the community.

The State is now in the process of implementing Phase III of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), which emphasises the need for a de-centralised approach for getting an effective response from HIV prevention programmes. The effort is to take all such programmes to the grassroots by directly involving high-risk and vulnerable groups in the implementation process.

The KSACS’ Targeted Intervention (TI) component of HIV control programmes among high-risk groups like sex workers, intravenous drug users and men having sex with men is being implemented through NGOs in the State. The new strategy means that all TI programmes would be handed over to the beneficiaries in a while, to be run directly by them.

Currently, 36 such TI programmes are being run across the State, of which six have been handed over to stakeholders themselves.

In Thiruvananthapuram, ‘Maithri’ became the first TI project to be directly run by the beneficiaries.

The project was being run for the past few years by Soma, an NGO, among sex workers in the district. The project had several components such as behaviour change and communication, condom project, management of sexually transmitted infections and networking and community mobilisation.

‘Maithri’ now has 126 registered members from the city, Attingal, Nedumangad, Varkala, Kadhinamkulam, Vattiyoorkavu and Sreekaryam.

The group will mainly focus on the health and family issues faced by sex workers, provide aid for the education of their children, arrange legal assistance for women who require it, and to counsel members on the importance of safe sex and condom use. Eventually, Maithri hopes to run income-generation projects like soap-making or book-binding for those who would like to come out of sex work.

“Generally, the sex workers here are very aware of the issues of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Condom use is high among this group and unlike before they have become quite adept at negotiating safe sex practices with their clients,” says Prashant, a volunteer with Soma.

It is not very easy for stakeholders to run the project all on their own, because interpersonal relations among members and leadership skills all become crucial issues. As Geetha, secretary of Maithri, says, these women are always wary of society and are not very confident of gaining acceptance in society.