According to the data by District AIDS prevention and Control Unit (DAPCU), the number of cases of AIDS is increasing by 30% every year in Haveri District but Byadgi Taluk saw a decrease by 61.03% in the year 2018. The awareness programmes are being organised more and more at a regular basis in the location yet, the district is facing an yearly increase.
By Surbhi Jain
Bengaluru, April 20, 2019
Firozah comes from a family of police officers but was married to a man who bothered about nothing but alcohol. “My daughter and I had nothing to wear and I was in a friend’s place one day when an engineer gave Rs. 1000 in my name as he liked me and wanted to safeguard me for his pleasures. He told my friend that he likes me. In a week, he came back and took me to Goa with him and paid Rs.10,000 to me for a night and that is how this life of my began.”
She mentioned how money at that point of time was her biggest concern and she wanted to provide proper education to her daughter. She also mentioned how even now her daughter and husband do not know about her profession of a female sex worker (FSW).
Firozah now works for Spandana Mahila Okkuta, a community based organisation (CBO) which started 14 years back to support FSWs suffering from AIDS and are provided protection and awareness in regards to their profession. Hema, the founder of Spandana said,” All female sex workers started this together.”
She also added, “ Humare sabse karibi dushman (closest enemy) hai HIV/AIDS”. There are many of our kind here. She mentioned how she used to work on the bus stand as an FSW, when people from Samoha Samraksha, a non-governmental organisation in 2002 discovered her. Each person who works here gets medical check-up ones in every three months. But our biggest issue is improper funding from KSAPS which causes problems at times but we somewhat manage to do our work on time with regularity”.
According to the data of Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS) which comes under National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), and aims to provide support to HIV/AIDS prevention and control to Government and Non-Governmental organisations. There has been a decrease of 61.03% in Byadgi in the number of cases of AIDS in the year 2018. Although; there is an increase by 30% every year in the Haveri district.
After going through the data, In a visit to the District Aids Prevention and Control Unit (DAPCU) in Haveri, Satish Hosmani, the district supervisor for DAPCU gave the reasons behind such increase in HIV/AIDS every year. He mentioned, ”One of the major concerns is National Highway 4 and the dhabas near it where prostitution is a common business. Even due to drought, a lot of migration takes place from Managalore and Goa. There is a lot of prostitution and even male to male sex prostitution is present in Haveri. This is a matter of great concern, no doubt the awareness is increasing but it still lacks and we are trying to work on it.”
40 year-old Firozah talks about how she has a daughter who desires to study MBA in Ramaiah Institute of Technology. She said, “You are just like my daughter hence I am sharing things with you but not even my family knows about what I do for a living.”
Thirty-six year-old Pramila also works for Spandana. She was detected as a positive HIV patient in 2016 after the death of her husband through whom she got the infection.” I have three children, two daughters and a boy. All go to schools and I get help from the government too as I am a positive HIV patient. KSAPS provides Rs. 1000 a month for each of my children due to my health condition. Till the age of 18 my children will receive the money.”
Sadhik, an MSM (Men sex with men) who works as the Project Head for Sanjeevani, a community based organisation along with the Project Director Tanushree mentioned,”We identified more than 400 MSM in the whole district of Haveri in 2007.”
Sadhik said, “The society blames people like us all the time for HIV/AIDS. According to them, the world gets the infection only because of people like us. People like us are somewhere beggars and somewhere just having sex with unknown people because we do not have a choice and we have to fill our stomachs.”
Adding to this Tanushree who is a transgender and changed her name from Prashant to Tanushree said,” But after identifying the number of people like us living in Haveri, we realised it is time for us to oppose this ugly society. We do not even have proper identification details in our names because of such lack of acceptance by the people in the society for us.”
More than 430 people were found by Sanjeevani which included – transgenders, bi-sexuals, LGBTs and Jogappas. ‘Jogappas’ also belong to MSM community but for them the castration is not done. Rather their families treat them as gods and call them ‘Shiv Shakti’. They too prefer to wear sarees.
Tanushree also mentioned, “There is definitely an air of awareness around but it is still not enough. I remember speaking to teenage girls warning them to not get into such business of sex work as it is harmful for health because I know how many people I see everyday suffering because of it. I receive the best replies from the children, they say I do sex and clap my hands to fill my stomach and that is my problem. Davengere has the maximum number of teenage sex workers. Not only this, ironically, what growth of awareness can we expect when doctors itself do not do the check-ups properly. They do not behave right with us”.
One of the peer counsellors in Rakshita, a CBO, named Sharda said,” How ironic my life seems to me as a peer counsellor where my husband named Ganesh asked me for divorce years back when in Dharwad during my breast operation, I was injected with blood of a person who was HIV positive and that is how I became an HIV/AIDS positive patient. I now live with my mother and my teenage son, Shivkumar whereas my so called husband married some other woman in his hometown in Dharwad.”
High Court denied Ganesh’s divorce appeal and even Sharda filed a case against Dharwad SDM Hospital but none favoured Sharda’s life.
“We provide safe sex education in collaboration with Karnataka Health Promotion Trust which funds our organisation. Our main focus is to help the positive patients to improve their quality of life”, said Rakshita project head Manjunath.”
Manjunath also mentioned,”We make sure to do oral infection checking and refer patients to doctors. The check-ups are done for per family we visit. The workers in Rakshita itself involve positive patients who are known as ‘peer counsellors’. Our main focus is to provide safe sex education to the people whom we meet. AIDS is a major challenge in our hometown and our job is to try as much as we can to cut it down.”
Even according to the data of World Health Organisation of 2017, 13,700 pregnant women were reported to be living with HIV who received antiretrovirals for prevention of mother to child transmission. Around 79% of the people living in India know their status of HIV. Only 56% of the people receive the standard antiretroviral therapy (ART) in India. Globally, 36.9 million people are living with HIV.
If we look into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the information provided by the United Nations for AIDS, it clearly mentions that globally, seven to ten adolescent girls and women of between 15-24 years of age do not have any knowledge of HIV. By 2030, the SDG has the target to provide high quality education on sexual and reproductive health so that they can empower people and provide life skills for informative sexual and reproductive health decisions.
Information by UNAIDS also states that the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age group of 15-44 years old living with HIV face increased violence. The effort is also to be made to secure affordable HIV commodities, including second and third line drugs which can benefit wider health and equity agendas.
Sister Gloria from Sneha Sadan Society, Centre for Integral Social Action talked about how they conduct rallies on AIDS day with the help of school children in Byadgi. She said, “Women here get affected a lot in chilli markets where they are physically abused but this is what we have heard of, therefore, we run awareness programmes all over the place. We have thirty women who have HIV living with us in Sneha Sadan. We run this plan of providing small loans to these ladies through which they do some business, earn from it and pay us back and are also able to run their lives in some way.”
Sneha Sadan also organises Child Right Clubs in 20 villages every year where children are given sessions on awareness on HIV/AIDS. The society also runs residential camps since the last three years for children who have been infected.
Sister Gloria said, “We found children on the streets of Byadgi. Later, District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) ran a survey and Sister Gladis, a lawyer who was working for DCPU used to go out and visit people and talk to them about how children are the future of this world, they are the coming generation. Thus, in these ways we found many children and women who were positive HIV patients. Now,our main focus is to make their lives better following the path of god.”
“Awareness is yet to be reached in the interior places of this country”, said Sister Gloria.
Sister Mary Theresa from Sneha Sadan Society spoke about 32 year-old Renuka whom she ones took to the hospital for check-up when Renuka suddenly ran away and was nowhere to be found. She kept looking for her for almost half an hour being furious whether she again ran away from the hospital to some liquor shop in the vicinity. But later, she came in walking and when she was asked where did she go, she showed her little finger and said “I went to the loo.”
Renuka has been an HIV positive patient since March 24,2011. Sister Mary Theresa bought her to the Haveri District Hospital for check-up when she got to know that Renuka has not been taking her medication since the last two years.
Sister Mary mentioned, “Renuka is very careless about her life and health. All she looks for is one chance to escape, and get drunk. We shifted both her daughters to our society as there is no one to look after them. We make sure that their health check-up is done regularly.”
Schools are educational institutions and are expected to have awareness programmes for all sorts of major health issues for students. Dr B.R Ambedkar’s Education Society’s Smt Kaveri English Medium High School in Byadgi are taught about HIV/AIDS in their physical education classes where their teacher Miss Padmavati H.K teaches them behavioural science in regards to HIV/AIDS.
She said, “From standard 8 to 10, all students are taught about awareness in regards to HIV/AIDS, Cancer and many other such diseases. We also teach them about hygiene and how they should be aware of it especially when they visit hospitals and are about to get injections. Be it syringes, blood, even shaving shops are places where children are to be kept aware.”
Sister Silvi, the headmistress of St,John Vianney Primary & High School, Byadgi, mentioned, “Awareness sessions are regularly organised in our school. We have a separate period for adolescence. Sessions are separately held for both boys and girls for students from standard 6 to 10.”
The students too talked about how they take part in small skits and street plays and rallies to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS.
According to Govind Raj, the Deputy Director for Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS), “More and more awareness programmes are to be bought forward. Not only in Haveri, but in other districts of Karnataka too,we are trying to conduct door to door campaigns. Everywhere in the whole of Karnataka, more awareness programmes are coming up. We have health workers like that of the ASHA Workers who visit homes from all different villages. Our job is also to educate and issue materials to make people aware of safe sex.”
He also added,”We also put stickers and pamphlets on the walls in different places to create all the more awareness.We also cover Belgaum, Tumkur, Dharwad, Bagalkot,Raichur,etc. Our focus are the areas which have high priority cases of HIV/AIDS.”
According to Reena, a former physical education trainer who worked with Population Services International (PSI) in a female condom programme, having exposure of HIV/AIDS and also worked for National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), ” People are needed to be informed and made aware about HIV/AIDS. We need to educate people about safe sex and the importance of it so that the spread of the disease curbs down as fast as possible.”