Monday, December 1, 2014

Walk With the HIV+ve

The trauma and privations of People Living with HIV and AIDS remain largely unaddressed because the society at large remains uninvolved, allowing them to struggle in the shadows

Someone in the corridors of power is taking the “getting to zero” call in the battle against HIV/ AIDS too literally and extending it to funding support for interventions by people living with HIV AIDS as well. This edition of the paper carries an update on the funds crunch that the Drop-In Centre for the HIV+ve being operated by the HIV+ve themselves is facing. The Sikkim Network of Positive People is offering to keep the Centre alive for as meager an amount as Rs. 3.6 lakhs per year. And yet, their proposal is being lobbed around from Cell to Cell of the Health Department without a final settlement. As things stand, a year since the Chief Secretary noted that “such an agency [Drop In Centre] is required to provide the necessary care and support to the patients living with HIV/ AIDS infection”, the funding has still not been committed to and the Centre continues to remain open only because those operating it, all HIV+ve people themselves, realize that to lose it would be to lose among the most effective venues to coordinate care and support for people living with HIV AIDS in Sikkim. By now, such centre should at least have been opened in the district headquarters as well; unfortunately, the planners are instead withdrawing funding even to the only such Centre in operation in Sikkim. This is not a condition unique to Sikkim, and it needs to be highlighted that the trauma extends to the entire nation where AIDS awareness suddenly found itself budgeted down to a sliver of what it was receiving till last year. That said, in Sikkim, a solution can be worked in much more easily because the finances in question are, let’s admit it, miniscule compared to the service that the Drop-In Centre delivers. It would perhaps not be out of place for everyone who participates in any AIDS awareness related activity on Monday to also consciously think about the privations of the HIV+ve in our society and discuss possible solutions for the more immediate problems like keeping the Drop-In Centre in operation.
What is happening to the Drop-In Centre for the HIV+ve is only one of the results of the change in the Central Government’s approach to addressing HIV AIDS in the country. International funding, which was lavish to say the least, was scaled down once the rate of infection came down. That was expected, since the immediate threat had been managed. And once the bushfire had been stamped out, the funding was expectedly diverted to other countries and regions where the problem continues to remain urgent. But that does not mean that HIV and AIDS have ceased to be issues of concern in the country. They might have stopped being on the top of priority intervention for international funding agencies, but as far as the nation is concerned, AIDS awareness cannot be allowed to slacken because if that happens, the disease will relapse and all gains made by the past decades of awareness and sensitization will have been squandered. The state exchequer thus needs to sustain the AIDS control mission. It cannot do that if it starts winding up dedicated cells just because USAID or the Bill Gates Foundation is not writing the cheques any more. It should not be allowed to do. But who will make some noise about it? The problem [of funding] has been around for more than a year now, but it has not really made news and headlines on a scale that it requires. That is clearly because like with most social concerns which don’t make the headlines, this situation lacks the titillation and sensationalism that would attract TRPs. Maybe the HIV+ve form neither a vote-bank nor constitute a purchasing pocket to receive attention. Maybe at a subconscious level, the society at large does not see anything wrong in such withdrawal of assistance for condition which most people still blame on lifestyle choices. Maybe these are the reasons why the condition of the Drop-In Centre and People Living with HIV AIDS is not receiving the attention it should… but these are not justified. And yet they happen, because when it comes to real work, HIV and AIDS continue to be battled in the shadows with only a sanitized version of awareness and empathy put out on display. Let’s try and change; let’s try and improve this World AIDS Day.

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