Each December as part of World AIDS Week we take the opportunity to highlight our activities in AIDS prevention and help bust myths around HIV and AIDS working with our existing beneficiaries to further educate on the facts, including prevention, care, treatment and the counselling we offer, government schemes, self-employment options and health issues while also gaining a better understanding of the problems and issues experienced by people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHA).
Living with HIV brings various challenges, perhaps the hardest of which is living with the stigma it brings. Finding a suitable marriage and family who accept you is already huge task for anyone. Factor in HIV and AIDS and being an orphan or rejected by your family and community and the chances of finding a suitable match can seem impossible. Therefore, our annual program includes a unique match-making event for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Much like speed dating, attendees have three minutes to introduce themselves to their potential brides and grooms sharing their hobbies, incomes, the kind of person they are looking for and their future plans. Invites are sent out to NGOs, ART and ICTC centers and the District AIDS Prevention & Control Unit (DAPCU) who help promote the event in the farthest corners of our state. With more than 300 PLHA attending this year’s program, eight couples successfully met their match and will return to our rehab center on 15 December for their wedding ceremony. Our initiative has been such a success that the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) who govern our projects have decreed that all other organisations working on AIDS prevention in Maharashtra should adopt our model and offer a similar program this year.
This is just one of our activities to mark World AIDS Week, this year we also arranged for our sex workers to meet with Padmakar Kestikar, Secretary of District Aid Legal Services, and Vinod Chavan, Police Inspector, MIDC police station, Ahmednagar, and discuss alternatives to sex work and how allied systems can help the women. Our annual ‘Pink’ festival with MSM debated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexual acts. These were complemented by an exposure visit to our organic farm showing PLHA an alternative lifestyle in a rural environment, health camps for local workers and volunteer training.