India Interior

Not a day’s medicine missed

Preeti Mehra | Updated on May 30, 2020 Published on May 30, 2020

Field officers in the frontline (from top): Mohammad Khalid Raza and Yasmin (second and third from left)

How Project Ahana reached out to the HIV-positive community during the lockdown

Covid-19 has dealt a double whammy to patients already suffering from life-threatening diseases such as HIV. The country-wide lockdown has left them with limited access to hospitals or medical assistance.

Operating within the grim scenario of sealed borders, police-imposed restrictions and extensive curfews are frontline workers of Plan India’s project Ahana, who work directly with HIV-positive patients. Since 2015, the national programme has been committed towards an AIDS-free generation, in partnership with the National AIDS Control Organisation and supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Project Ahana’s essential focus is on preventing parent-to-child transmission among women in the most vulnerable and marginalised communities. Now in 2020, five years later, the project faces an unprecedented situation of reaching out to HIV-positive patients amidst a deadly pandemic.

For frontline field officer Yasmin and project officer Mohammad Khalid Raza, who function in the district of Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, it was quite an ordeal to follow up on a pregnant-positive woman during the lockdown. She was due for delivery end of March. Yasmin and Raza were able to procure an emergency pass and arrange for standby ambulance services to ensure an institutional safe delivery on her due date. Thanks to their detailed planning, when the time finally came on March 31, they were able to reach her to hospital. And just as well, for due to some complications the condition of the newborn became critical. The frontline workers then worked to extend the stay of mother and child in the hospital and even managed to get the father permission to bring in essentials for both mother and child.

In Assam, project officer Roopkatha, along with three field officers, had a challenging assignment. In charge of the two districts of Karimganj and Dima Hasao, the team supports positive pregnant women registered with the Chachar Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) Centre, which is a district adjoining Karimganj.

Doorstep delivery

Roopkatha (standing)

 

During the lockdown, Roopkatha and her team were tasked to provide essential ART medicine to 21 women who required it on a regular basis. They figured that the best solution was to home-deliver the dosage.

They too managed to get an emergency pass from the Karimganj district authorities. The field officers travelled to Cachar to collect the medicine and delivered the consignment to every doorstep. The result: Now all the 21 women have medicines with them for the next 60 days.

In Dimapur, Nagaland field officer Lucy Wungleng managed a similar feat. She belongs to the community of People Living with HIV and has been involved in community work for over a year. When there was no local transport available due to the lockdown, she walked 15 km to deliver ART medicines to 12 women in neighbouring Karbi Anglong district.

Lucy Wungleng

 

Dealing with challenges

These are just three examples of the trials and tribulations of frontline workers as Plan India reached out to people in nine States during the lockdown — Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. “Around 3,000 of our field staff and community volunteers are also digitally connected with over 60,000 families. However, the challenges have been many. The National Health Mission is committed to provide HIV screening services to all pregnant women as part of the essential antenatal care package. This screening has been badly affected. We are required to do the early infant test within 60 days of a child being born to a positive mother. Of the 14 States that we cover, 11 States have to send the sample to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata. Only some samples could be sent by emergency courier, it’s been a big challenge,” says Rochana Mitra, Director at the Ahana Project and associated with it since inception.

She feels the project has been continuing during this time only due to the dedication of the frontline workers. “They are doing a lot of work to keep the ball rolling, including home-delivering essential medicines. They have so far supported 12,530 people living with HIV and 4,038 positive pregnant women in 357 districts.”

Published on May 30, 2020

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