There is nothing more angering than the thought that the stigma faced by people living with HIV (PLHIV) is prevalent in the very medical institutions that are supposed to care for them. Take, for example, the situation where numerous cases of PLHIV had their HIV status published on the front page of their medical history, making confidential information available to anyone who glanced at their file. Even before the news of their status spread, the patients had been blatantly discriminated against and marginalised by caretakers and medical staff. Unfortunately, this example of human rights violations was a nightmare experienced by PLHIV who were admitted to the District Government Hospital of Amravati in Maharashtra.
To reverse this trend, the Koshish Project saw its members from Amravati’s neighbouring district join hands to advocate for change. Community action has always been at the core of the Koshish Project’s work, and through structured community consultations, team members collected factual evidence and discussed appropriate steps to take. The newly formed coalition, consisting of training support officers, advocacy officers and field workers, submitted a joint memorandum to the Head of Department at the Amravati hospital appealing for appropriate action. The Koshish team works on the principle that in order for stigma to be challenged in the long run, it is important for the government to legally sanction anti-discriminatory practices.
Their efforts were rewarded when the Head of Department soon issued a circular stating that it was mandatory to discontinue the practise of disclosing patients’ HIV status on the front page of their medical case history. Responding to this welcome action, a 32-year-old HIV patient at the hospital expressed how this circular had affected him – “Now I go to government hospitals like anyone else and access services without any stigma. I feel more empowered when the right to disclose my HIV status lies with me and not others. “
This case also unravelled the need to organise trainings to sensitize district doctors as a step towards reducing stigma. Koshish team members have already taken an opinion poll of district doctors in Amravati district to assess their current knowledge of and attitude towards HIV/AIDS. The next step will be for team members to use this information to create training programmes that challenge HIV-related stigma, which has become a serious health as well as a civil rights issue.
Alliance India works closely with PLHIV in India through its Koshish project which aims to strengthened civil society organizations and networks that represent and work with PLHIV and other marginalized groups, such as MSM, transgenders, sex workers and IDUs, to effectively advocate for policies to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of PLHIV in India. This project is funded by the European Commission and is implemented in partnership with MAMTA, PWDS, VMM and CHETNA, along with state-level networks for PLHIV in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.