10 April 2012
By Gitesh Shelke
• ART gives HIV+ CSWs, their kids side effects due to poorly balanced diet
• Their meals are taken away by brothel keepers, reducing their protein intake
For the past few years, Geeta (name changed to protect identity), an HIV+ commercial sex worker (CSW) in the city’s red light area of Budhwar Peth has been living mostly on fast food, as her daily dabba meal delivered from NGO Saheli’s community kitchen is taken away forcibly by the brothel owner. The lack of protein in her diet has meant that Geeta and 55 other HIV+ patients, including 16 children of CSWs, are not responding to the crucial Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). In a bid to bring their diet back on track, Saheli has now decided to stop delivering meals to doorsteps and has instead asked these HIVaffected CSWs and their children to drop in to the community kitchen and pick up their meals, while giving them additional protein–rich food like milk and eggs.
NGO director Tejaswi Sevekari told Mirror that of the 850 CSWs registered with Saheli, 52 women are HIV+ as well as their 16 children. “Out of these total, 12 patients have dropped out of the ART regime but the remaining 40 women and 16 children are on ART. It was found that they were suffering a lot of side effects due to the ART, like nausea, dizziness and indigestion, which was unusual,” Sevekari said.
Saheli workers then decided to study the diets of those showing side effects to ART and consulted doctors, following which they realised that these HIV patients were not getting enough of protein in their food.
Dr Sanjay Pujari, an expert in infectious diseases, said that due to improper dietary balance, the women might not be maintaining the correct Body Mass Index (BMI) and this could be causing side effects. “Otherwise, there shouldn’t be any side effects of ART. Sometimes, due to improper food habits, there is lack in haemoglobin which can also give rise to side effects,” Pujari said.
“When we talked about the problem, the Inner Wheel Club came forward and offered to fund milk and eggs for these women and children. Since February, we’re giving them 200 ml of milk every day and a boiled egg on alternate days. This increases their protein intake and does away with side effects to ART. But we insist they pick it up themselves from our kitchen,” Sevekari said.
Whenever she gets good food from a restaurant or her dabba and takes it back to the brothel to eat in peace, the brothel owners take it away by force, claims Geeta. “The brothel keepers are just after money and do not want us to waste our time on food. They want us to serve as as many customers as possible,” she said.
Sevekari said the CSWs are left with little option other than fast food like wada–pav, bhajipav and noodles, which are easily available and cheap as well. However, this food is giving them health problems, she said. To beat the problem, NGO workers decided not to home–deliver the milk and eggs as it could be taken away by the brothel keepers.
“We serve them food at our kitchen to avert such incidents at the brothel. A meal costs Rs 25 at our kitchen,” she said, adding that HIV–affected CSWs continue to work with customers.
Since February, we’re giving them 200 ml of milk every day and a boiled egg on alternate days to increase protein intakeTejaswi Sevekari, Director, Saheli
NGO Saheli’s community kitchen, where the affected CSWs and kids now come for their milk and eggs
Of 850 CSWs registered with Saheli, 52 women are HIV+ as well as their 16 children