Unheard voices, hidden lives

In many societies sex work and sex between men are subjects of strong disapproval and face legal and social taboos. Their association with HIV and AIDS compounds existing stigma and reinforces discrimination and human rights violations. This often means that the lives of men who have sex with men, women who have sex with women, sex workers and people living with HIV remain under the wraps. This makes it harder for communities affected by HIV to claim their rights, and for others to understand their experiences and needs.

Every day 8,000 people are dying from AIDS around the world. Most of them are never heard of. According to a recent research, only five per cent of injecting drug users, 11 per cent of men who have sex with men and 16 per cent of sex workers have access to basic HIV services globally. Work with these groups is under-funded and, where funds are available, bound by constraints.

This disease is not limited to a specific country or region but spread around the world. This presents differnt challenges to combating HIV/AIDS in different regions across the globe. But irrespective of the place, the emphasis should be on talking and spreading the message about HIV/AIDS counselling and testing. It is important to understand the essentials of HIV and AIDS that includes learning key definitions, concepts and messages. After this, participatory activities can be planned and implemented for the needy, particularly for children and women. Mobilising communities for HIV counselling and testing is essential these days as HIV and AIDS infections are spreading fast. Once the capacity of a community is strengthened, the NGOs, CBOs and other civil society organisations can respond to HIV/AIDS in developing countries, thereby increasing knowledge and improving the quality of their work. The NGOs and trainers who support such groups should work either in capacity building workshops or on technical support visits.

Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is also becoming widely available. It is now accepted that people with HIV, their families and communities have an important role to play alongside health workers in ensuring effective treatment. They should be involved not only in preparing for ARV treatment but also in supporting the life-time commitment that this involves. This calls for a commitment to explain how the concept of “community engagement” emphasises the long-term and multi-disciplinary nature of support for Antiretroviral treatment.

Global Fund Round 6 grants will help those most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. India has received $25.9 million in Global Fund grants over five years through an International HIV/AIDS Alliance. The grants help in optimal use of available resources, such as civil society organisations, among the vulnerable groups. For any realistic hope of reducing the vulnerability of these groups and human rights violations, the programmes should be sufficiently funded.

Only then will the goal of universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care by 2010 will be achieved. In Nepal’s context, the authorities concerned should stop wrangling and unite to procure the needed resources for the country.

Let’s talk more about HIV/AIDS and make the unheard voices heard.