Working with 2.9 lakh at high risk,NACO upset but hopes to carry on

The issue of health services,though,is not limited to AIDS control efforts.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Published: December 12, 2013 1:25:04 am

The National Aids Control Organisation and the health ministry had taken the home ministry head on in the matter of decriminalising gay sex and stuck to their guns for seven years. The reason is that men having sex with men (MSM) and transgenders-eunuchs form two of the three high-risk groups that NACO is charged with,and it is widely regarded as having been reasonably successful in containing the spread of HIV-AIDS among them with a targeted intervention programme.

The targeted intervention programme seeks to reach out to high-risk groups through organisations working on the ground to remove the element of risk by promoting condom among MSM,and with peer education,behavioural change communication,etc. NACO estimates the total high-risk MSM and transgender population in the country is about 4.12 lakh. Till December 2012,TI projects had covered 2.91 lakh (about 70 per cent) of these people through 201 outreach initiatives managed by the community.

The figures have seen a quantum jump since the 6-per-cent coverage the AIDS control department had submitted to the Delhi High Court around 2007-08,a ground for the department’s contention that penalising consensual gay sex was detrimental to AIDS control efforts.

Separate targeted interventions too have since been initiated under the national AIDS control programme for eunuchs or transgenders,though there are no validated national estimates of the size of the community or their geographical distribution. NACO has drafted operational guidelines for the programme to ensure it is suited to the needs of the eunuch community rather than clubbing them with MSM.

NACO secretary Lov Verma refrained from commenting on the fate of these programmes till his department has studied the full SC judgment but officials say there is a sense of disappointment. However there may not be any immediate implications for the programme,unless explicitly stated in the judgment.

“Our programmes will go on. It is our mandate to check the spread of HIV-AIDS in the population and these are an important part of fulfilling it. It is true that the legal standing of MSM and transgenders has altered now but if we can run TI programmes for female sex workers who also indulge in supposedly illegal activity,why should others be any different?” said a NACO official. The issue of health services,though,is not limited to AIDS control efforts.

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi,a transgender activist working in Mumbai,talks about how health facilities became much more easily available over the last four years after the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising gay sex. “Doctors were no longer fidgety about treating us. Now it will be back to the old days when whether we are entitled to even basic healthcare will be a question.”

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