Last week I had an opportunity to welcome a group of third semester MSW students from Kristu Jayanti College, Bangalore; my alma mater, at my office. They had come for an exposure visit. We oriented them on the National AIDS Control Programme and the work we do. It was a great experience and took me for a stroll down memory lane.
Ten years back, around this time, I was a first semester MSW student at KJC. Our professors used to take us for exposure visits to various organisations working in the social/development sector. We also visited few care homes for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) during those days. It was my first exposure to such an environment and the sufferings of people infected by the virus and progressed to AIDS. Most of them were critically ill and at the final stages of their life. Those were the times we were losing so many lives at their most productive age to HIV. Though treatment was available in the private sector, it was not affordable to most of the affected populations. NACO had just started a treatment programme in 2004 at a few government hospitals in the country and it was being scaled up. However, all those who were in need of treatment were unable to access it due to the distance to such facilities, financial crisis, lack of awareness, and lot of other issues. Getting a positive HIV report was still treated as a death warrant and we came across many PLHIV waiting for their last moments at NACO-supported hospices/end-care homes. Those co-infected with TB were kept in isolation. As the treatment programme expanded and started showing positive results, these end-care homes evolved as centres that supported treatment literacy, adherence and retention.
After completing MSW and working in Bangalore for some time, I joined the National AIDS Control Organisation in Delhi in 2009 and became part of the team that handles treatment, care and support for PLHIV. While visiting the care centres during college days and interacting with the people who suffered, never in my wildest dreams I thought that I would be part of the mission to provide solutions to their afflictions in the future.
The last ten years have seen sea changes in India’s response to HIV/AIDS. Treatment facilities have been scaled up. Our mission was to ensure at least one facility in every district in the country to provide treatment services. More than 500 treatment centres have been established. By December 2016, the national programme aims to put a million PLHIV on treatment. End-care homes have become part of history. They became Community Care Centres during the third phase of National AIDS Control Programme providing treatment support and evolved as Care and Support Centres during the fourth phase, taking care of the holistic and comprehensive care and support needs of PLHIV. HIV related morbidity and mortality have come down, with treatment people started living longer and healthier lives and HIV has finally become a manageable health issue.
And, being part of this journey is, of course, a matter of pride!