“We are thankful to the government for providing free ART treatment. Without their support, we might not be alive today,” says Preeti with gratitude in her eyes. In her mid-thirties, Preeti is a mother of two from a backward district in Bihar. She contracted HIV at the young age of 18.
“I had no idea what to do and who to approach back then. HIV and AIDS were taboo. Now we have ART, and what we need along with treatment is care and support. Medication without proper support is of no use. I want to be an earning member of my family. My children are growing, so are their needs and still no one wants to offer jobs to people living with HIV,” she says.
Care and support are essential to effective ART programmes. PLHIV need support to access and adhere to treatment, to strengthen the capacity of families to manage HIV infection, to maximize the value of referrals and linkages to social protection schemes and services, to address instances of stigma and discrimination, and to reinforce positive prevention strategies.
To address these needs, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, working closely with the Department of AIDS Control (DAC) and with funding from the Global Fund, has initiated the Vihaan programme to scale-up care and support services for PLHIV in India. Meaning ‘dawn’s first light’ in Sanskrit, Vihaan complements the national treatment programme and has been designed in line with the National AIDS Control Programme IV (NACP IV) which promises “…universal access to comprehensive, equitable, stigma-free, quality care, support and treatment services to all PLHIV using an integrated approach.” Vihaan is the largest care & support programme ever launched.
PLHIV are at the heart of Vihaan. The programme ensures a robust, holistic care & support system for PLHIV – including high-risk groups, women and children – in 31 states and territories of India. The programme is establishing 350 Care & Support Centres (CSCs) as part of the national effort to improve treatment outcomes and to respond more effectively to the needs of people living with HIV. CSCs provide a range of care & support services and timely linkages to other government schemes to improve treatment adherence, overall social protection, and quality of life of PLHIV.
Vihaan relies on a range of civil society organisations and partnership with government to ensure the success of the programme. PLHIV organisations are key partners at every level. Nearly three-quarters of Vihaan’s implementing partners are PLHIV networks at state and district levels. Of the nearly 2,000 people engaged in the programme, roughly sixty percent are from the PLHIV community. Within the first three years, the programme expects to reach more than 1.2 million PLHIV.
Fatima, another woman living with HIV in Bihar, expresses her growing confidence, “Being positive myself, I realise how important care and support are in the lives of PLHIV. I am excited to be part of Vihaan and to make a difference in the lives of so many.”
Note: Names of community members mentioned in this blog have been changed to protect their identities.
The author of this blog, Rosenara Huidrom, is Associate Director: Care & Support at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.
With support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, , Vihaan is establishing 350 Care & Support Centres (CSCs) across India that will help expand access to services, increase treatment adherence, reduce stigma and discrimination, and improve the quality of life of PLHIV. CSCs will support PLHIV, including those from underserved and marginalized populations who have had difficulty in accessing treatment including women, children and high-risk groups in 31 states and territories.