Saturday the 30th of November was a ‘red letter day’ for the Jeevan Sahara Kendra (JSK) – no, make that a ‘red-ribbon day.’ In solidarity with the 35 million people world-wide who are living with HIV, and in remembrance of the 36 million estimated to have died so far to AIDS, and in the hope that no more new infections will take place, the Jeevan Sahara Kendra decided to mark this year’s World AIDS Day with a public outreach to help the general population in Thane stop the spread of HIV.
The Jeevan Sahara Kendra has been working in Thane for 11 years now – helping people with HIV and their families get personalized HIV care in their homes through a combination of personal and family counseling as well as monitoring and supervising ART and other life-saving medications. This work is further strengthened by an integrated counseling and testing centre (ICTC) which we run in collaboration with the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS), an outpatient clinic and in-patient care that is provided at the JSK Community Care Centre in the Lok Hospital Building. While most of our work is in caring for people who already have the disease, JSK makes is a point to periodically reach out to the broader population to help prevent the further spread of this disease.
The Thane railway station is the life-line of the city, with an estimated 6.5 lakh passengers passing through every day. We decided to make this the focus of our prevention work for our World AIDS Day 2013 intervention on Saturday 30th of November.
HIV Information Table
Having received the necessary permissions from the railway and police authorities, our team set up an information booth at the railway station near platform no. 1 and 2. An informative poster exhibit was put up – including ones made by our adolescent groups which include HIV positive young people and children of people who have HIV.
Free literature about HIV in various languages was also available – for which we want to especially thank OM books and bro George Verwer for their generous provision of this. Throughout the day interested people came to the table to pick up literature and to talk with our staff and volunteers about HIV/AIDS. A number of impromptu counseling sessions were held – and a number of people were referred to the testing and counseling camp being held simultaneously at the auto / taxi stand area.
All through the day our staff and volunteers gave out literature, pinned the red ribbon on members of the public to signify a commitment to ending AIDS, and talked about how it is possible to live a life free of HIV.
By the end of the day the JSK information booth had distributed a staggering 5058 copies of the booklet “Ten Great Reasons not to have Sex before Marriage” to the public. The bulk of the copies were in Marathi (2500), Hindi (1460) and English (1000) with a small number in Malayalam, Telegu and Tamil (total 98) given out as well. In addition the team distributed 350 packets of information from MSACS, as well as 450 copies of “HIV and Life Positive” in Hindi as well as a number of other miscellaneous HIV related literatures.
Free HIV Testing Camp
While all of this was going on, the other part of the JSK team was conducting a free HIV Counselling and Testing Camp in collaboration with Rashtravadi Rickshaw-Taxi Chalak Malak Mahasangh. We had put up a shamiana the day before so that the counselling and blood collection would take place in full confidentiality.
Our JSK staff and volunteers took the “Ten Great Reasons not to have Sex before Marriage” booklets and red ribbons and gave them to all the auto-rickshaw drivers as they came to pick up their passengers. Others talked with taxi drivers and autorickshaw drivers and encouraged them to get tested.
The results were spectacular. All through the day a steady stream of people came for HIV counseling and testing. Our staff and volunteers registered each person before the counseling session and then helped guide them to the appropriate rooms. After they had received pre-testing counseling, and had their blood sample taken, the JSK team and volunteers then gave them a small snack and continued sharing information about HIV and how to prevent its spread with the participants.
The overwhelming majority of the participants were auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers – with about 10% of the participants being members of the general public who had been met at the JSK information table and also came to be tested for HIV.
One man – who was due to travel later that day to Rajesthan – postponed his trip to be able to come and find out his test result (which we were able to tell him the next day was HIV negative!).
Significantly, most of the people who were counseled had or where engaged in risky sexual behavior. The camp offered them an opportunity to come face to face with the possible consequences of their actions. At least 4 of the participants told the counselors that they had been engaged in homosexual encounters.
After the counseling and blood collection was over, we took the samples back to the JSK centre to be processed. We were so happy to find that not one of the 131 samples were positive for HIV! This means that though most of our friends have been exposed sexually at some time or the other, they have been spared the life-challenging consequences of actually being infected with the disease. Our counselors met with those tested on the next two days to give the HIV test results – and have the pleasure of telling each one that they are ‘HIV negative’ – but that they need to thank God for that and change their behavior if they would like to stay negative.
Our staff and volunteers managed to distribute another 1700 copies of “Ten Great Reasons not to have Sex before Marriage” in Marathi (1000), Hindi (500) and English (200) over the course of the day to different autorickshaw and taxi drivers, as well as putting red ribbons on them.
All in all it was a memorable day for the Jeevan Sahara Kendra, and we are grateful for all our staff and volunteers who put in so much work to get the job done. We know that the literature that went out will help change lives into the coming days – and that each person tested will have a new understanding of his or her own behaviours. We are grateful to the leaders of the to the Rashtravadi Rickshaw-Taxi Chalak Malak Mahasangh as well as the Thane Railway Station and Police authorities for cooperating with us to make this World AIDS Day 2013 outreach a grand success.