Chennai: In a move to help provide medical help for transgenders and female sex workers, Voluntary Health Services (VHS), a local NGO, has through a special initiative, ensured health insurance for the two communities in Tamil Nadu. The insurance cover is being provided by ICICI Lombard, informed finance minister P. Chidambaram, who was present at the inauguration of the scheme.
The insurance scheme is part of a larger programme refered to as the Tamil Nadu AIDS initiative (TAI), which will look at reducing the vulnerability of high-risk communities in the state. In this particular scheme, the premium amount payable by the women and transgenders would be Rs 281 per person per year, against which they would be provided an insurance cover of upto Rs 5,000 per year, said Dr N. S. Murali, Honorary Secretary of VHS.
Currently, there are about 3,000 transgender women in Chennai alone, with a majority of them earning a living either through begging or through commercial sex, according to Asha Bharathi, who heads the Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Association, an organization run by transgenders. This places them at risk of infection against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The pilot project initiative, which was initiated in Salem district in southern Tamil Nadu, saw 650 women and 350 transgenders opting for the insurance programme, making up a total premium collection of Rs 2,95,000.
According to Mr Murali, “While the sum of Rs 5,000 may not seem like much at the moment, it is a start – as the subjects get more convinced of the concept, they will be willing to pay larger sums, and their insurance cover will increase correspondingly.”
The technical support for the programme has been provided by SEWA, an NGO based in Gujarat, which has ran an insurance programme for women in the region earlier. Like the original scheme, the NGOs involved have tied up with eight hospitals identified by community members in Salem district for extending medical facilities under this scheme.
Chidambaram added that it was commendable that such a scheme could come up, and congratulated Dr Lakshmi Bai in particular, who is the director of TAI. “Such an initiative would not have been possible, and so widely publicized ten or fifteen years ago,” he said.