Connecting local responses around the world
22 year old Chawngmawii from Mizoram, North East India left home when she was sixteen. Coming from a broken family with a history of abuse, she started living with her friends or in the streets when she got hooked on to injecting drugs. She got into sex work to support her drug habit and in 2008 was diagnosed as HIV positive. With the help of some NGOs, she started visiting the existing drop in centres (DICs) to access services. However, it did not met her immediate needs as the services provided were very male centric.
Under a joint UN programme in North East India, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for South Asia is working in the four states of Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya, to establish female service delivery models for HIV prevention among female injecting drug users (IDUs) and female sex partners of IDUs.
A female specific DIC with female staff has been set up at each of the four sites, thus making it comfortable for the clients to access services.One of the strengths of the project has been the involvement of female HIV positive persons and recovering female drug users as peer educators to impart information on drug driven HIV and services available at the DIC to their peers through outreach activities. As the peer educators themselves are recovering drug users, HIV positive persons with a history of drugs or partners of IDUs, they are able to build strong bonds with the clients at the DICs, as they easily relate to them though their own experiences. This has helped the initiative to reach out a greater number of female IDUs, who are often a hidden population, with relative ease. The initiative has also been able to address to the needs of the female sex partners of IDUs, which have often been overlooked.
Chawngmawii enrolled herself as a client at the female DIC in Aizwal, Mizoram, and has been visiting the DIC every day since October 2010. "I go and rest, have a bath and fill my belly in the DIC for the day, something which I could never do in the other DICs as there were too many male clients," says Chawngmawii. "Since the others who come to the DIC are also women, I don't have to be extra careful when I sleep or change. It is a safe haven and I really feel at home". With a female doctor at the DIC, Chawngmawii even gets herself checked for aliments like headache, fever and allergies and receives free medication.
The most striking outcome of the initiative has been its easy acceptance amongst the female IDUs and female partners of male IDUs. This is similar to UNODC's experience in other countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal in South Asia. The lead partners for this initiative are the State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) of the four states. The intervention is based on the gaps identified by the North East Regional Office (NERO) of NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation), the SACS and NACO.
(I am thankful to Cristina Albertin and Madhyama Subramanian from UNODC Regional Office for South Asia for sharing this story. You can read the story in detail at www.unodc.org/southasia )