Ashraya Hastha Trust, Bangalore, Swasti and Taaras Coalition come together to ensure PLHIV have essential food supplies, hygiene and safety kits during COVID-19

Chenna: The COVID-19 pandemic has disparately affected People Living with HIV (PLHIV) who have lost their livelihood and are most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their immuno-compromised status. For PLHIVs, access to ART medicines is critical to maintain their immunity. However, with the lockdown, access to ART medicines has become difficult. Additionally, PLHIVs and others who have other chronic health conditions require special nutrition practices. The Public Distribution System and cooked food packets distributed by local authorities and other agencies are often unsuitable for them. The loss of livelihood pushes the most vulnerable and marginalized deeper into poverty and ill health.

To support these communities to mitigate COVID-19 related challenges 3 entities – Ashraya Hastha Trust, Swasti and Taaras Coalition have come together with the intention to reach ration, hygiene and safety kits to PLHIV members of 32 Community Organizations across 5 Indian States – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. Leaders of Taaras Coalition, a platform of Women in Sex Work has undertaken the responsibility of distributing the kits to the most vulnerable members of the community, ensuring their nutritional needs were being effectively met.

“The safety, hygiene and ration kits that we provide to the community members are tailored to the specific needs of PLHIVs. The ration kits provide them with the right nutrition. The safety kits have reusable and washable cotton masks, Sanitary Napkins, and soaps that they can use to protect themselves from COVID-19. The hygiene kits for the field staff have masks, sanitizer and hand gloves to ensure safe distribution of the kits. AHT aid has not only ensured material support but also moral support for PLHIVs during this difficult time. These individual members feel that there are organizations and individuals that care for them. This activity has not only helped the members who received the kits, but also supported 36 local vendors and their families who supplied the ration kits and other supply chain members. We are with the community and we will continue to be with the community.” Says G.Kallana Gowda, Chief Impact Officer, Swasti

The kit distribution process started on 5th of June 2020 and will continue up to 25th of June 2020. Around 300 community leaders from 32 Community Organizations from 5 states and 150 staff members have been involved in the entire exercise, reaching 1000 PLHIVs.

“Without these hygiene and nutrition kits, our community members who are suffering from HIV would have been at the risk of COVID-19 and starvation. We remain grateful to AHT and Swasti for standing with our community during our difficult time.” Says Veena, Taaras Leader from Karnataka.

Swagata*, a PLHIV member of a Community Organization of marginalized women – Rudrama Devi Mahila Mandal in Andhra Pradesh adds, “I have been HIV positive for the last 7 years and I am on ART. I know the importance of nutrition for my health – however, due to the lockdown, I lost my livelihood leaving me with no money to purchase nutritional supplements. During this helpless situation, Ashraya Hastha Trust, Swasti and Taaras Coalition came forward to support us by distributing nutrition and hygiene kits. This has helped me stay healthy and protected despite the pandemic.”

COVID 19 and the curfew has made the situation worse particularly for the PLHIV people. PLHIV people in rural areas like us have no help during this curfew. Due to Lack of work, we have great difficulty in getting food materials. The timely help provided by Ashraya Hastha Trust and Swasti by providing ration, nutritional supplements, and hygiene materials for one-month usage was very helpful to us. You have made us realize that you are there for us. On behalf of our PLHIV people, we extend our sincere gratitude to you for supporting us in our hard time” said Kanchana* – Taaras Leader Tamil Nadu ( Melur Village -Madurai)

Distribution of such kits tailored to the needs of PLHIVs who are at heightened risk of COVID-19 is critical. PLHIVs and among them the most marginalized – by gender and livelihoods that put them at increased risk, continue to struggle with lack of access to basic necessities and need help – in terms of nutrition, protection from COVID-19 and alternate livelihoods right now.

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