India: Social protection allows people with HIV to live with dignity

Purshottam Jat's world came crashing down around him in 1998 when he learned he was HIV positive.

The news came during a business trip to Goa. A trucker by profession, he used to drive across the country to supply marble from Rajasthan to southern parts of India.

Back home in Rajasthan, Purshottam consulted local doctors, who blamed him for his illness and offered no support and even less hope. "I was afraid to ask questions," Purshottam recalls. "Within two years my weight reduced to 33 kilogrammes."

His friends and relatives ostracized him. Predicting that he would die soon, they advised his wife and three children to stay away. Purshottam did not want to die, but could find little reason to fight.


"I got my wife and children tested for HIV. They were all negative," he says. "I had to survive for them."

Doctors at a hospital in Jaipur gave him another sliver of hope. With proper medication, such as antiretroviral treatment, they told him that he could live for another three to four years.

Determined to live for his family, Purshottam dug into his savings to buy expensive medicines. It was during this time he learned that the Government of Rajasthan had started providing free medicine and treatment to people living with HIV.

Now 42, Purshottam has been living with HIV for 18 years.

He is one of an estimated 2.1 million people living with HIV in India. While the Government of India has taken steps to address the HIV epidemic, discrimination and stigma associated with HIV remain high and have substantial and lasting impact on households.

Throughout the world, stigma and discrimination around HIV deter people from getting tested, reaping a profoundly adverse human and economic cost. In fact, stigma and discrimination are among the foremost barriers to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

"People affected by HIV, these people are generally isolated," says Dr. Naresh Goel, Deputy Director General of India's National AIDS Control Organisation. "They are stigmatized. They will be more vulnerable, and they will further go toward poverty."

In 2006, UNDP supported a landmark study on the socio-economic impact of HIV in India. It highlighted the enormous financial burden that HIV puts on families, who often have little by way of a safety net to overcome the loss of income and employment opportunities.

In response, UNDP has been working with the Government of India to strengthen social protection programmes in affected communities so that people like Purshottam can not only afford treatment and care but also cope better with the social impact of HIV.

"When we interact with these people who are getting these benefits or social protection schemes, we see that they are changing their lives. We see that they are getting empowered," Dr. Goel says.

So far, the government's social protection programmes have provided a total of 1.04 million benefits to people infected and affected by HIV. This includes pensions, scholarships, food subsidies and travel allowances to treatment centres.

Besides getting help to pay for his medical treatment, Purshottam took advantage of a financial grant for children of people living with HIV and realized his dream of sending his kids to a good school.

"The people who stigmatized me and said that I would die very soon are proven wrong. I have been living with HIV," Purshottam says. "I am physically, mentally and economically fit."


Source: UNDP