Marathwada Gramin Vikas Sanstha (MGVS) was my second visit to an NGO that works for people with HIV/AIDS; and I can now say with confidence that I understand the plight of not only persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) but also social workers working for the cause. Terms like PLHA, O I treatment, ART and CD4 are no longer Greek. (For the uninitiated, these stand for persons living with HIV/AIDS, opportunistic infections, anti-retroviral therapy, CD4 is a specific type of white blood cell that plays a large role in helping your body fight disease. Keeping this count high is important when it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS.) Moreover, my respect for organizations like MGVS has only gone up. Earlier, I was a distant spectator and respected them for providing for positive children; but after spending an entire day with them (at the local Government hospital’s ART center to chatting with their fieldworkers to reviewing files and photographs of their work over the years and speaking to their direct beneficiaries), I truly entered their world!
So MGVS is essentially a Community Development organization, which means that they work for the improvement of all gap areas within a given community. In their case, the concerned community is primarily Vaijapur – as the founder Mr. Appasaheb hails from here. Over the years, as they developed expertise in a particular gap area, they spread their reach to Jalna, Ahmednagar, Nasik and the other 9 districts of Aurangabad. Setup in 1995, the organization has worked in the areas of health, education, environment, organic farming, sanitation and women empowerment – all on the basis of a need, which was identified by the people themselves or through area surveys that accidently/by chance threw light on the same.
The prevalence of HIV/AIDS increased in Aurangabad over the years, as the city developed. The district’s 5 industrial areas – Paithan, Chikalthana, Waluj, Chitegaon, and Shenda – house the factories of Bajaj, Wockhardt, Videocon, Goodyear and Scoda amongst others. Thus, the district has a continuous inflow of workers – most of whom are male, young and single. As a common precursor in such industrial areas, the district became a hotspot for sexual activities too. So, it was back in 2009 that MGVS began working for AIDS/HIV. Their work with PLHA can broadly be categorized into (a) STD/HIV/AIDS prevention and control and (b) Running homes for HIV orphans and community health centers. And I spent my day understanding these projects better as donors through GiveIndia support these projects.
My day started off by talking to children who are currently undergoing ART treatment at the local hospital. Children like Swati, Akshay, Chitrakala shared details of their treatment – from the monthly journey to the center to the sweet medicine to their understanding of the disease. I was happy to learn that all these children had shown considerable improvement after treatment. Pre-treatment, they suffered from body aches, weakness, constipation, vomiting etc. – symptons varied from patient to patient. Thanks to MGVS’ efforts though, they are able to lead uninterrupted lives.
I was also truly enlightened by MGVS’s staff members about the field work involved when it comes to HIV/AIDS people. I spoke with Sheila Pawar, Anita, Sunita and Baloo from the fieldwork team. Between the 4 of them, they cover Aurangabad’s 9 districts. Sheila has been with MGVS since 2006. After passing out of the 12th standard, she got into social work. She has worked with another healthcare NGO prior to joining MGVS. Anita did her MSW with the intention of getting into the social sector. MGVS is her first job. Sunil has been with MGVS since 2007. He too studied till grade 12. He has also obtained a degree from the pediatric institute. One of his previous jobs entailed working with female sex workers. It is at MGVS that he moved on from being a fieldworker to being in charge of the district. Baloo has been with MGVS since 2011. He was part of Prerana Samajik Sanstha (PSS) prior to joining MGVS.
All 4 of them do similar kind of work. They cover 100 villages under the 9 districts of Aurangabad, amongst themselves. Their fieldwork involves visiting the homes of families where all/some of the members are HIV+. They cited examples of the challenges involved in their work. From inquisitive neighbours ( Neighbours notice the MGVS fieldworker visiting regularly and ask questions like “Yeh aadmi se aapka kya kaam hai? Yeh aadmi aapke ghar kyun aata rehta hain? Who aapki kya sahaayata karta hain?”) and this is a very discouraging thing for families involved because they do not want others to know about their HIV+ status. So for fear that the family will stop taking MGVS’s guidance/help, the fieldworkers are cooperative and meet the families at places outside of their homes, if the family asks for the same. Also, visits are usually done by calling the family in advance and informing them that a health worker is coming so that they are prepared for the same ( there are no guests at the home then etc.). Visiting the houses is important so that they can provide these families guidance/counseling about the disease. The team also revealed that when families first learn about how the disease works, they are usually not accepting of it and in denial. So sometimes before bringing up the HIV/AIDS topic, fieldworkers invest time in building a rapport with the families. Their initial meetings, in such circumstances, entail talking about health in general as well as about other diseases.
Sheila shared one particular example of a family where the son was HIV+. The family was aware of the same. At the time of his marriage, however, they held this detail back from the bride’s family. As things would turn out, the MGVS team learnt of this and intervened. In fact, when they intervened, they did so when the bride’s mehndi ceremony was going on! The marriage was obviously called off. And there was quite an ugly scene at the ceremony that day with the boy’s family hurling many curses at MGVS staff-members.
Their HIV/AIDS programme currently supports 217 children – this includes children living with their own families plus those who live at the MGVS hostel at Vaijapur. Those who live at the Vaijapur hostel are complete orphans – many do not remember their parents/their lives before coming to Vaijapur, how long they have been here, their birthdays, their age etc.
Working with HIV/AIDS patients is not easy. Most of MGVS’s staff did not truly understand the disease till they underwent training to take on their jobs. Infact a chat with their FSW (i.e. Female Sex workers) team reveals that were it not for the family support they receive, they would not have been able to continue with the work. As of their team members puts it, “The work that we do is very different from say a corporate/bank job. In those cases, you work a standard 9am-5pm and can forget about work outside of these hours. In our case, we sometimes go to field very early or return very late. Many times, even if not on field, we receive calls much after official working hours have ended. That’s the nature of our work – it largely revolves around the timings of the beneficiaries because at the end of the day, it is them who we are working for.”
The FSW team works with, as they put it, “vulnerable clients.” These include truckers and migrant workers ( who are also referred to as “bridge population”), youth reaching adolescence, orphans and other vulnerable children. They too cover 100 villages that fall under the 9 districts of Aurangabad. It was back in 2001 that MGVS put together this team. A baseline survey conducted by them in Aurangabad’s 141 villages, through indicators such as “number of female sex workers”, “number of drug users” etc. revealed high incidences of these in many villages. They decided to focus their work on 100 of the most vulnerable villages. So from the right usage of condoms to connecting victims with the ART center to awareness and counseling of their family members as well as testing spouses/children of those identified as HIV+, their work covers all aspects that would help reduce the incidences/spread of HIV in these districts. And their efforts are truly paying off! From an indicator of 7.2 in 2003 to 2.24 today; as well as another indicator of 2.24 in 2003 to 0.25 today (Appasaheb needs to give me more details of what indicators these are), the impact of their work can truly be seen!
It seems that this team is surely going to nip HIV at the bud, making HIV history in these 9 districts. That’s a large drop in the HIV ocean, wouldn’t you agree? Well, I certainly hope they manage to do so. If you’d like to help them get to this target sooner rather than later, pitch in by sponsoring ART treatment for an HIV/AIDS child for a year.