It has been 25 years since the first observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, 1988. This quarter-century journey has been tumultuous. Denial of the epidemic and gross violations of the human rights led to the deaths of millions globally. People living with HIV spoke out and acted up. Others noticed, and slowly advocacy drove investment in HIV programmes by governments around the world.
In India, the first known case of HIV was diagnosed in 1986 in a female sex worker in Chennai. HIV remains concentrated in high-risk groups. While adult HIV prevalence stood at 0.27% in 2011, it continues to remain alarmingly high among men who have sex with men (MSM) at 4.43% and transgenders 8.82%. Pressed by community advocacy, the Government of India’s HIV response has prioritized prevention interventions for MSM. It has recently realized the necessity of developing a distinct HIV prevention strategy for transgender and hijra communities. By the end of 2012, 20 of the government’s targeted HIV prevention interventions were working exclusively with these populations.
Despite many years of work, HIV prevalence remains high in MSM, transgender and hijra (MTH) communities in India for complex reasons. Starting at the individual level, internalised homophobia and transphobia plagues many MTH community members. Often rejected by their families, there is lack of meaningful social support for them that adds to their vulnerability to HIV.
Society at large is still not comfortable with MTH communities. This is even more true for transgenders and hijras. They are more visible which often makes them targets. Lack of recognition of their gender identities by the government makes their lives difficult. Without proper identity documentation, they cannot access education, life insurance, bank loans and various social entitlement schemes.
Though the Delhi High Court read down Section 377 of Indian Penal Code in 2009, the ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court of India. The judgement is expected in December 2013. Activists in India and across the world are eagerly awaiting word from the Supreme Court. If the court upholds the Delhi High Court decision, it will be a landmark in the history of human rights.
We must be relentless in our pledge to make HIV history. In this, our governments and our communities are equal partners. HIV is not just a medical issue, and it never has been. It’s a social matter that requires a holistic response that puts affected communities at the centre. This World AIDS Day and every day, we need to strengthen community action on AIDS.
The author of this post, Yadavendra Singh, is Advocacy Manager at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.
This blog was published on The Alternative on 1st December 2013.