SC verdict may hit HIV prevention programmes, fear MSACS officials

Targetted intervention programmes have helped bring down the rate of HIV prevalence among the high risk group of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgenders across the state. Yet, the HIV prevalence among these groups is still 14 per cent. With the Supreme Court declaring homosexuality illegal, the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) hopes it will not impact the HIV prevention programme.

One of the 30,000-odd people registered with the MSACS as MSM and transgenders, 3,400 are from Pune.

Avsharan Kaur, Joint Director, MSACS, for targetted intervention programmes, told Newsline that it was mainly the high-risk group of MSM, transgenders and female sex workers that HIV prevention programmes were planned. "Hence, while 30,000 of them are under the programme, it is likely that there are many more in the private sector," she said.

It is difficult for this community to 'come out' as they face harassment and are ridiculed by society. "Transgenders are the worst affected as they do not get employment," said Kaur, adding that the health department faced a huge challenge to reach out to these groups.

While HIV prevention programmes will continue, officials fear it may be a more challenging task to address their needs as they will not declare their status. "For transgenders, who are subjected to ridicule, their option for survival is usually sex work. Here's why our programmes have been successful as condoms are given to everyone, HIV tests are conducted so that the viral transmission can be curtailed," Kaur said.

The MSM group is tested for HIV once in every six months and condoms are distributed regularly. In Pune, the demand is nearly 12,000 condoms every month while it is 7,000 in Pimpri-Chinchwad, according to Bindumadhav Khire, president of the Sampathik Trust that receives funding from MSACS and Alliance India to conduct HIV prevention programmes among MSMs. "We identify them via peer educators at various places in the city, like Swargate, Marketyard, Yerawada, Chinchwad and Bhosari," he added.

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