Karnataka’s sexual minorities in fight against AIDS (Dec 1 is World AIDS Day)

November 30th, 2009 - 7:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 30 (IANS) Helen is a busy woman as she goes about counselling those in the flesh trade about the danger of HIV-AIDS. She is one of many sex workers who are proving crucial in the fight against the disease in Karnataka.
“Sex workers are highly vulnerable to HIV-AIDS. It’s our responsibility to create awareness about it among sex workers and provide necessary medical services to those who are already infected by HIV-AIDS,” Helen, who heads the Swati Mahila Sangha, a sex workers’ collective in Bangalore, told IANS Monday on the eve of World AIDS Day.

“Today we have 7,500 members and our organisation has worked with around 16,000 sex workers across the city. Apart from creating awareness about HIV-AIDS among sex workers, we are also trying to fight the social stigma attached to sex workers and to HIV-AIDS,” she said.

Karnataka has around 245,000 HIV infected people.

Soumya, another HIV-AIDS activist who is a transgender and a sex worker, is also trying to create awareness among sexual minorities about HIV-AIDS through Samara, an organisation for sexual minorities.

“The sexual minorities are highly prone to HIV-AIDS. Thus our organisation is trying to create awareness among them about the dreaded disease. We are also fighting to give equal opportunities to sexual minorities in society,” she said.

Reynold Washington, director of USAIDS, said sex workers and sexual minorities, once considered a “problem” in the fight against HIV-AIDS, were now acting as crusaders.

“Sex workers and sexual minorities today form a strong group of grassroots level activists fighting HIV-AIDS in Karnataka. Health experts have gained a lot as social minorities have come forward to help us fight against HIV-AIDS,” he said, on the sidelines of an Editors’ Symposium on HIV/AIDS here Monday.

National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has marked Karnataka as a “highly prevalent state”.

The state has 245,000 HIV infected people and 33,000 are suffering from AIDS, according to the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS). But only 22,000 of these are registered with the society.

However, the fight against HIV-AIDS in the state has got a boost as, according to the latest report, the HIV prevalence among general population in Karnataka has come down to 0.86 percent in 2007 as against 1.5 percent as against 2003. The data has been compiled by estimating the HIV-AIDS prevalence among attendees in ante-natal clinics across the state.

An estimated 2.5 million people in India, aged between 15 and 49, are feared to be living with HIV/AIDS, the third largest number in the world.

“It’s no easy life for us. Everyday is a struggle. Along with health related issues, I have to fight the social stigma attached to the disease everywhere. However, I am determined to provide equal rights and opportunities to HIV positive people,” said Channa Basava, a community representative of People Living with HIV/AIDS and an AIDS victim himself.

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