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Tackling the Virus

The first AIDS case was detected in India in 1986. Dr Vinay Kulkarni diagnosed one of the first cases of AIDS in the city in 1989.

“It took us three years to come across an AIDS case in the city. That’s when we began work on the disease,” says Vinay, who along with his doctor–wife Sanjeevani, started Prayas, a health group that focuses on HIV/AIDS and sexuality, in 1994. Their aim was to diagnose the disease and provide treatment to the ailing. Today, Prayas treats around 3,500 HIV/AIDS patients from Pune and other parts of the country at its clinics in Deccan and Pimpri–Chichwad.

Anti–Retroviral treatment (ART) is provided at concessional rates to the HIV/AIDS patients, especially those from the low socio–economic strata of the society. “HIV/AIDS is a chronic manageable medical disease. The treatment costs Rs 150–Rs 400 per month. We buy medicines in bulk and those patients who cannot afford the treatment are sponsored or given free treatment. Currently, there are 350 children in the age group of 6 to 20 who are being treatment for HIV/AIDS at Prayas. Out of these, 33 are getting free treatment,” says Vinay.

Right from the beginning, the Kulkarnis were focused on creating awareness about AIDS/HIV. “It was imperative for us to interpret this disease. There were several misconceptions related to this disease in the 1980s. But today, people are far more aware,” says Sanjeevani.

“In rural areas, there is a better social acceptance of people with HIV/AIDS, whereas the stigma prevails largely in urban India,” says Sanjeevani.

Prayas has its reach across 40 sites in nine districts of Maharashtra, where it focuses on capacity–building by involving the local communities. Volunteers and counsellors are trained to look after the HIV/AIDs patients in the rural areas. “We provide training to the counsellors and volunteers who are chosen by the villagers themselves,” says Sanjeevani.

Prayas has developed its own knowledge bank by coming up with reading material for patients, trainers, doctors, counsellors, those not affected by AIDS/HIV, parents and children.

Prayas also undertakes Preventing Mother–To–Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programmes. More than 75,000 pregnant women from have benefited from the comprehensive ante–natal counselling which is part of the scheme. And around 700 HIV–positive pregnant women have been able to prevent the HIV virus from infecting their children. “Prayas screens 40,000 to 50,000 pregnant women per year,” says Vinay.

Commercial sex workers (CSWs) and homosexuals are the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, observes Vinay. That’s why Prayas trains volunteers at various NGOs in Budhwar Peth’s red light areas to spread awareness about the disease. Interestingly, in the mid–1990s, Vinay had carried out a study on the socio–cultural aspects of homosexuals. It was one of the first study conducted on the issue in India.

He and Sanjeevani are also busy with a social research project Effects of couple–oriented counselling’. It’s an effort between four countries India, Georgia, Cameroon and the Dominican Republic.

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Source: Times of India

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