Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS), I-TECH India, and Aastha Parivaar hosted a virtual event to commemorate the World AIDS Day 2020 observed earlier in the month. The event titled “Advancing HIV Response for Fast Track City during COVID 19” was held to understand key priorities, gains and gaps in HIV response for fast-track cities like Mumbai.
The event enabled a constructive dialogue between members of government, development partners, key population community, academia and civil society. The panel of esteemed speakers discussed the national directives on sustaining HIV response during COVID-19, explore innovative virtual responses to accelerate HIV response in Mumbai, and collaborate on building a plan that ties in community ownership alongside the key stakeholders.
Ms. Nandini Dhingra, UNAIDS facilitated the panels with Dr. Sundar Sundararaman moderating the sessions. Speakers and panellists included Dr. Shrikala Acharya, Additional Project Director, Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS), Dr. Melissa Nyendak, Country Head, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Bilali Camara, Country Director, UNAIDS, Padma Shri Dr. Raman Gangakhedkar, former Head Scientist of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and Dr. Anwar Parvez Sayed, Director from I-TECH India among others.
Due to COVID-19, health systems were burdened and vulnerabilities in the key population saw a surge. Community representatives echoed the challenges they faced whether in terms of sex work with lack of clients during COVID or in availing healthcare facilities. The community needs were largely tied to strengthening the psycho-social support system, access to counsellors on national helpline, linkage to Ayushman Yojana scheme to use healthcare facilities and livelihood opportunities under existing national initiatives.
Dr. Gangakhedkar highlighted the increased importance given to public health systems due to COVID must be leveraged for HIV prevention initiatives as well. Dr. Sundar Sundaraman was of the view that HIV has challenged the stakeholders to improvise constantly This has led to fundamentally bringing up a new leadership and a range of new, innovative solutions.
Mr. Ashish Arora, from Dr. SafeHands brought an important point to the discussion about the usage of social networks and virtual platforms for community outreach. The panel agreed that community advocacy is essential to maintain COVID and HIV as priorities. Mr. GS Shreenivas from I-TECH added that the approach to community advocacy should be a deep-dive approach rather than spreading the net wide which could dilute the impact.
The discussion closed on some pertinent questions being raised on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and reliable sources of information, cost of the pill and the next steps around its usage by community members. Speakers opined that PrEP is a working tool in the toolkit which has been showcased by global studies and examples and hence more pressure needs to be exerted on the policymakers to follow-up on the PrEP guidelines which are already largely in place. Dr. Gangakhedkar also voiced his support for PrEP and was of the view that Mumbai’s HIV programme would benefit from its inclusion.
Ms. Seema Sayyed, Manager, Aastha Parivaar summed up the discussions while presenting strategic priorities for the stakeholders present and chalking out the action steps for the way forward. Among the key recommendations, it was mutually agreed upon that the various innovations and learnings from MDAC’s body of work should be disseminated for benefit of other metro cities. UNAIDS would also be constituting a think tank in 2021 to assess the progress on HIV work with NACO and thus a roadmap for HIV prevention is in sight.
I-TECH India has its roots within the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), a global network based at the Department of Global Health, University of Washington, Seattle USA, since 2003. I-TECH India is the lead partner to NACO for implementation of HIV/AIDS care and treatment activities and prioritizes the “middle and third 95” of the 95-95-95 goals. I-TECH, through its national and regional distance learning platforms, has built the capacities of care and treatment providers working in States, Centers of Excellence, Pediatric Centers of Excellence and >540 Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Centers/sites across the country. I-TECH also provides technical mentoring and support to focused cluster sites in Maharashtra (Pune, Thane, Mumbai) and North East (Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland). In addition to this I-TECH is also providing technical assistance to State AIDS Control Societies of the North East States of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland in services for prevention of HIV among vulnerable and at-risk population.
For more details, please visit the I-TECH India site at itech-india.org.
About Mumbai Districts AIDS Control Society (MDACS)
Mumbai Districts AIDS Control Society (MDACS) is an autonomous body established by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) for control & prevention of HIV/AIDS in Mumbai. MDACS implements National AIDS Control Program (NACP) under the guiding principles of National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. MDACS serves as a nodal agency, using multi-sectoral approach collaborating with general Health System, other Government departments, NGOs/CBOs, private sector and people living with HIV/AIDS. MDACS provides services through its various divisions viz. Basic Services, Blood Safety, Targeted Intervention, STI, Care Support & Treatment, Information Education & Communication and Mainstreaming. mdacs.org.in.
About Aastha Parivaar
Aastha Parivaar is a federation of Community Based Organizations emerged from Aastha Project under the mentorship of FHI360, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. AP aims at strengthening the sex worker community, providing a common platform for the empowerment of Mumbai and Thane’s Key Population (KP aka sex workers) including male and transgender workers. AP aims to address six main areas of need within the KP community to create a sustainable impact; HIV and STI Intervention, Resources, Crisis Intervention, Legal Advocacy, social protection, reducing risk & vulnerability and Children. aasthaparivaar.org.