In this episode of Chigurida Badaku, Chandrika and Lakshmamma from Sadhana Mahila Sangha share details about how sex workers lead their lives when they become HIV+. “Every three months, these workers undergo tests at health camps arranged by Sadhana and if they come to know that they are HIV+ then they are taken for counselling. This information is kept confidential and they will be advised to use condoms at work from next time onwards. The big challenge that the Sadhana staff faces is to bring HIV+ women to access health campaigns – the team has to motivate the workers a lot. Actually, these women are very scared to become aware of their HIV+ status because these women do sex work without letting their family members know. They are scared that if I am found to be HIV+, the family will throw me out of the house. How will society treat me? So many of these questions arise.” The organisation comes forward in such scenarios, works with the women closely and provides a space to keep their ART books at the organisation so that they needn’t carry it home. “In some cases, if the women are HIV+ and the husbands are HIV- then they are advised to share details with them because the husbands too risk getting infected.” In a few cases, the couples are OK to use condoms and in some other unfortunate cases, they are thrown out of the house. When they are put out of the house they stay on platforms, railway stations and in other places. The harassment continues outside the house as well.
There are also cases when these women can fall into a problematic way of thinking – I have got HIV, let me also spread it to others; my life is spoiled now, so let me spoil other persons’ lives as well. “We offer counselling for such cases to make them understand step by step the problem in that thinking. We pose questions like, “What if the person you infect one day marries your daughter?” Because this does happen!”
Here is a case study: A woman shifts to Bangalore, gets married to a person and becomes pregnant. She has no money to take care of her pregnancy, so Sadhana pitches in and the baby is born HIV-. Today, both daughter and mother are leading a happy life and she has left sex work.
Another case study: A family had placed their daughter under house arrest because she had been into sex work and was spreading HIV to everyone who came in contact with her. Sadhana came to know about her and fought with the family and brought her out of the house, which involved a lot of problems. The team admitted her to a care centre and she was given counselling. Today, she has stopped her wrong activities.
Sadhana has also provided educational support to sex workers’ children. “Many women leave sex work after becoming HIV+. They apply for schemes that are available to them and make use of it. We make sure that they don’t do anything to spread the infection to others and that they are consuming nutritious food.” In one unfortunate case, a woman was thrown out of her house after she was diagnosed with HIV. She was forced to stay at Majestic and at the railway station. One day, she could not get up because of having received no treatment; she had also been molested by men around the area. She passed away and Sadhana performed her last rites.
Sex workers in the city are generally scared to go near the Majestic and railway station areas for their work because they are often roughly taken away by the police, placed in a beggars colony and their families are informed. “A few women also think, “How many days am I going to survive with HIV? Let me just enjoy drinking and eat whatever I want!” They come to Sadhana asking for help at the last stage. A few of the sex workers also warn clients about the HIV+ workers, so we notice a lot of discrimination among the sex workers themselves.”
Listen in for more…