Twenty-eight-year old Omkar is gay, does not hide his status and was elated when he got a job in April this year as an accountant that paid him Rs 12,000 a month at Samapathik trust, an NGO that works towards the welfare of 600 men having sex with men (MSM) and transgenders in Pune and another 400 of the same community in Pimpri-Chinchwad. From August, he will have to hunt for another job.
At Kayakalp, another NGO at Budhwar Peth that provides targeted interventions like distribution of condoms and checking for sexually transmitted infections among 1,000 female sex workers, coordinator Seema Waghmode has had no other option but to curtail the services of 31 peer educators. A peer educator is selected from among the female sex workers who reaches out to the community, understands their problems and then helps in providing interventions to prevent HIV.
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These are just two cases of how the Centre’s delay in disbursement of funds has now started affecting HIV-related targeted intervention programmes across the country. In Pune district, 20 NGOs providing services have been affected while across the state, as many as 142 NGOs have been categorically told to suspend “some” activities.
NACO changes funding pattern
On June 11 this year, the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) project director Khushal Pardeshi sent a letter to all the NGOs providing targeted interventions, saying they had not received funds due to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO)’s funding pattern. “Curtail outreach workers by 25 per cent and recruit only 75 per cent of the approved sanction posts,” was the terse instruction to the NGOs, which were also told to suspend some of the targeted intervention activities.
When contacted, Pardeshi told The Indian Express that there was a fund crisis. “Every year, we receive our funds from NACO in April-May. Last year, MSACS had asked for Rs 130 crore and received Rs 108 crore. This year, we require Rs 144 crore but only one installment of Rs 11.89 crore has been received by us. We have stock of 18 different types of drugs for the next two-three months,” he said. NACO has promised to take a decision on the funding pattern in the next fortnight, he said.
Clearly worried over the fate of the projects which had been sanctioned from 2012 till 2017 as part of the National AIDS Control and Prevention (NACP) phase-IV programme, Bindumadhav Khire, president of Samapathik trust that has been working on health and advocacy issues of gays, MSM and transgenders for more than 12 years, has already written to N S Kang, additional secretary, NACO in New Delhi, asking for immediate intervention.
Concern over condom shortage during festive days
“There are lot of people who visit Pune during festive season, now beginning with the annual pilgrimage from Alandi to Pandharpur, Ganesh festival and others. Our stock of 7,000 condoms will just last a week for the female sex worker population. What after that? Will there be free distribution,” asks Seema Waghmode from Kayakalp. According to Tejaswi Sevekari, coordinator of sex workers collective “Saheli”, “Already, there is a shortage and some chemists are charging Rs 50 per condom, she said. In fact, authorities have also had to ask the state family welfare bureau to “lend” them some condoms.
What is worrying is that impact these issues are likely to have on the transmission of HIV infection.
According to NACP-III, there has been a 57 per cent reduction in new HIV infections in India. “We are making efforts to halt the epidemic, but such delays in funds can affect our work,” says Pardeshi.
In Maharashtra, there are a total of 1.59 lakh HIV+people availing of free drugs at the anti-retroviral treatment centres.
According to experts, however, the onus of also providing funds rests with the state government. As per the new policy, the Centre also expects the state to cough up 50 per cent of the funds and the Centre will then provide matching grants.
Kalyani Patil, in charge of NACP-IV for Pune district, too says there is a crisis. “The focus is on cost-cutting . But we will supply condoms free and conduct other interventions to prevent HIV. We are hoping a decision will be taken soon,” Patil says.