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Sushma turns tutor on AIDS

New Delhi, April 14: Health minister Sushma Swaraj will conduct a class for non-government organisations working in the field of HIV/AIDS to make them more “focused”.

“The NGOs should be more focused in their work. I have summoned them to a meeting where each one of them is going to be assigned a particular task in this field,” Swaraj says.

The NGOs are expected to keep in regular touch and report to the ministry on the progress of the work they have been given. “They have to give timely reports on their work,” the minister says.

Swaraj believes that the NGOs are working at random.

“Everybody is creating awareness on HIV/AIDS, but nobody knows what exactly they are doing to generate awareness — which particular aspect of the campaign they are taking care of,” she explains.

It could range from distributing condoms to counselling in schools, working among high-risk groups to campaigning against social stigma and prejudice against the disease, she adds.

“We need to address every possible group from adolescents to truck drivers.”

The NGOs, in their defence, argue that they are working towards specific targets and the minister should specify if the allegations that they are not focused are backed by statistics or are just her “feelings”.

“NGOs are working on specific projects and not just at random,” said an activist.

In Delhi alone, there are 40,000 HIV/AIDS patients and some 12 NGOs working in this field. According to Swaraj, even condoms are not distributed properly in Delhi’s red-light area. “There are about 5,000 sex workers in Delhi’s red-light area catering to seven or eight clients a night.

“This means 1,20,000 condoms need to be supplied every month,” the minister says.

But Jyotsna Chatterjee, of the Joint Women’s Programme, an NGO working with sex workers in Delhi, argues that sometimes the National Authority for Control of AIDS does not meet the quota of condoms for distribution among sex workers.

“As a result, we have to buy condoms in bulk from the market and then distribute them to whoever can afford to buy them from us.”

Swaraj, however, feels that NGOs visiting red-light areas must ensure a month’s advance supply of condoms among the sex workers. “They must also ensure their regular health check-up,” she says.

One of the weakest links in the programme against HIV/AIDS is care and support for patients. “Most of the patients from the lower economic strata cannot afford expensive care. In addition, there is a lot of stigma,” says Kewal, a health worker.

In Delhi, NGOs run about four to five care homes for these patients, far short of the actual need.

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