Bangalore: On 29 October, 26-year-old Akhila, well into her second trimester with her second child, waddled into the taluk panchayat office in Doddaballapur, a district adjoining Bangalore, to join a gathering of other HIV-infected people.
Members of the Karnataka Network of Positive People (KNP+) and the District Level Network (DLN) were there to participate in an interactive programme in which they could question and raise issues with state officers working in the area of HIV/AIDS.
The 26 people in the panchayat office were watching and listening to a panel in Mysore on a television screen, joining 1,174 others in the taluk headquarters of the 25 other districts in the state.
Akhila presented a point-by-point list of the problems and stigma she faces. The list was long. The teacher at the local anganwadi, a government-run child and mother-care centre, and the village nurse had not contacted her though they knew her CD4 count was bordering 300. CD4 is a measure of the body’s immunity; for a healthy person the range is between 700 and 1,000.
She had not been given the double nutrition package offered to malnourished women under the Integrated Child Development Services programme—her CD4 level classifies her as malnourished—nor the Rs1,000 for nutrition under the Prasuthi Araikhe scheme for poor pregnant women.
Both the anganwadi teacher and the nurse refused to answer her calls or accept her as a part of the locality, she said.
Listening to her at the other end was district AIDS prevention and control unit officer Ganesh H., part of a five-member discussion panel in Mysore, who immediately made a call to the nurse. The result: Akhila received a call in less than half an hour from the healthcare professional and was promised all her entitlements.
Several participants had similar stories to tell during the two-day satellite-based interactive programme, held to facilitate the 1,200 network members connect to the Satcom centre in Mysore, and understand and be assertive in demanding their rights.
During the course of the sessions, four discussion rounds were held, each with four panel members including representatives of non-governmental organizations, health officials and representatives of the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Board Corp.
The exercise aimed to achieve two goals: Bring the HIV-positive community into the mainstream and unite them with other infected people across the state; and to help state officers connect better with them without necessarily having to visit the villages.
The officials don’t plan to use the Satcom facility often, but consider it an effective standby. The centre was made operational with support from the Indian Space Research Organisation in 2002 for one-way video and two-way audio transmission.
“Unless we adopt a rights-based approach, it is not possible to enable people living with HIV to access the range of services available in the state in the form of 30 community care centres, drop-in centres and treatment for opportunistic infections,” said R. Jannu, project director of the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society.