Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
Around the world, people, especially those belonging to the LGBTQ community who are living with HIV experiences face gross human rights violation, discrimination and stigma on a near-daily basis. The situation is no different in India. However, on March 8, India’s first community-based Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centre for HIV treatment was inaugurated in Mumbai, Maharashtra, which aims to provide holistic care to people belonging to the marginalised communities for free.
The treatment centre was set up and established by the Humsafar Trust, a community-based organisation, which almost 20 years ago had started a support group for gay men, male sex workers and transgenders where they sought to create awareness about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
“With an ART facility, it now moves into offering its LGBTQ beneficiaries better and complete packages for HIV services in the city. The patients from other high-risk groups group can avail these services in a nonjudgmental environment outside hospital settings,” said Ashok Row Kavi, founder chairperson of The Humsafar Trust.
The ART Centre has been set up with support from the National AIDS Control Organization, USAID and USA-based Family Health International 360. It will facilitate the access to treatment and care among most-at-risk communities including the transgender community as well as sex workers who are subjected to discrimination in public health centres.
Talking to The Logical Indian, Malini, a counsellor at the ART centre, said that although the Humsafar Trust has been known for its Integrated Counseling and Testing Centre (ICTC) for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), it was not a designated ART centre. With its inauguration now, the Trust’s Santacruz office will now serve as a one-stop for the city’s at-risk groups. ART is the use of HIV medicines to treat the infection which delays the progression of the disease.
Up until now, the patients used to get tested at the centre. Those who would test positive would be sent to Sion Hospital, where the patients, owing to discrimination would drop out in large numbers from regular therapy. Malini said, “We wanted to make the centre as inclusive and community-friendly as possible and hence, kept the timing between 12 pm to 8:30 pm so that professionals can also walk in.”
She said that living with HIV can be difficult, especially as a member of the LGBTQ community and hence, the ART centre will also provide pre and post counselling sessions to the patients. While it primarily aims to cater to the LGBTQ community, the centre is open for all. The Centre will be staffed by a rotating panel of doctors, counsellors and nurses who will conduct preliminary check-ups and medication and also educated the patients on the topic itself.
Discrimination and violence towards people belonging to the LGBTQ community has proved to be a serious barrier in ending HIV. Those who feel intimidated or harassed will find Humsafar Trust’s ART Centre as a safe option to receive treatment. The Logical Indian applauds the organisation in establishing a centre which will not only offer medical assistance but mental health support to members of the LGBTQ community who have been diagnosed with HIV.
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