Women’s groups launch new drive against AIDS

BANGALORE: "An HIV positive, I am not taking anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for the past 13 years. Having the disease should not stop us from living with dignity," said Shanti, a sex worker.

She wants to spread this message to other women affected with HIV.

Shanti is a key person involved in the new project ‘Baduku’ (Life) launched by Swathi Mahila Sangha (SMS) on Monday. For the past five years, she has been working with SMS.

The project is done in co-ordination with Vijaya Mahila Sangha and Jyothi Mahila Sangha, two other organisations working for the empowerment of sex workers.

The programme aims to fight against the stigma attached to these women and the discrimination they face.

The project is supported by the World Bank which has granted Rs16 lakhs for technical support for 18 months.

Sunitha Rao R, for DNA

Psushpalatha R, project manager of SMS, said "Women sex workers who are affected by HIV positive face double stigma. They are even more discriminated and stigmatised leading to poor access to HIV-AIDS related medical and other services.”

The project includes a one-month campaign programme. On November 5, a bike rally will be held. Volunteers will visit hospitals and police stations seeking the support of police, doctors and nurses in changing the societys outlook on people with HIV.

As part of the campaign, a human chain will be held near Forum Mall and on Nrupatunga road on November 14 to make the public aware that HIV does not spread through touch.

The project also includes a signature campaign in which the public will make a pledge not to discriminate people with HIV.

As early as October 5, SMS had started an email campaign to bring awareness on AIDS.

"Thirty-five percent of people among those to whom we sent the emails replied showing concern towards people with HIV. We require the support of the general public," said Hareesh, an SMS volunteer.

Second-line drugs          
The primary treatment given to people with HIV positive is antiretroviral. If this drug does not help, the second-line drugs will be given to the affected.

The second line drugs cost Rs15, 000 per person every month. This is distributed free of cost in government hospitals in Maharashtra.

"Karnataka government should take steps to make this drug available in hospitals in our state too," said Lakshmi K, an SMS volunteer.

Left with no option
Mamatha (32) lost her mother when she was born. Her stepmother hated her and made her work like a servant at home. When Mamatha attained puberty, her stepmother threw her out of the house.

From a village near Tumkur, Mamatha came to Bangalore in search of livelihood. The 12-year-old took shelter in Majestic for four days. On the fifth day, she was raped by miscreants.

She started working as a labourer and married her co-worker. By the time she discovered she was affected by HIV, she was a mother of two. Her husband died three months after being tested as HIV positive.

Mamathas in-laws rejected her and the children.

‘I decided to work as a sex worker to feed my kids’, said Mamatha whose children are staying in a school hostel.

"It’s not easy to come out of the social stigma once we get affected by HIV. I want to live and bring up my children. After the death of my husband, who `gifted me this disease, I was left with no option," said Mamatha.

She too is a member of SMS.

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