Shahid, an outreach worker in Kutchh district of Gujarat went door-to-door delivering antiretroviral (ART) drugs to 196 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Mandvi block, the area assigned to him. He reminisces one particular delivery experience.
“I received a call from a man who had only a one-day dose of ART remaining. He lived about 40 kilometres away. I checked if the government vehicles could deliver ART drugs to him, unfortunately, nothing could be arranged. He was my priority so I decided to deliver ART drugs myself however I just couldn’t find a vehicle to travel. I then borrowed my brother’s bicycle and set out. Finally, I gave the man ART drugs that would last him for the entire lockdown period. On my return, about 10 kilometres before reaching my town, the bicycle broke down. I had to cover the rest of the distance on foot, dragging the bicycle on the side. I was exhausted from the travel but my heart was at peace as I had helped save someone’s life.”
Treatment adherence is crucial and life-saving for people living with HIV.
Outreach workers are contact points for communities where our programmes are implemented. They play an important role in delivering HIV services at the community level. The fact that 90% of our outreach workers are themselves living with HIV and are from the same village or district, making them a very committed and valuable human resource. Our outreach workers are skilled and trained to carry out fieldwork with our programmes. From using eMpower tablet to track data on people registered with our programmes to paying home visits; from generating awareness on HIV to providing counselling, we depend on them to effect change and improve lives. As field workers, they face tremendous hardships: out and about on a hot day, rainy day, boarding crowded buses or walking miles to visit one family. Through all of this, their commitment and resolve only grows stronger.
In the past few weeks, ever since the country went into lockdown amid COVID-19 outbreak, the outreach workers have been at the forefront of our COVID-19 response. They have been facing and overcoming so much more as they put their own lives on the line to help others. They were tasked with supplying antiretroviral (ART) drugs to people who cannot reach the nearest ART Centre, a dedicated unit in government hospitals where people living with HIV can regularly collect ART drugs. Moreover, they continue to follow up with registered PLHIV on call to share measures to protect from COVID-19 and the importance of treatment adherence.
Those who could walk to the nearest ART Centre were guided to collect their ART medication for the entire period of the lockdown. However, there are many residing in far-flung areas and do not have means of transportation. In some state, the government has allocated vehicles to distribute the drugs in the community; even then the vehicle is not available on all days. Our outreach workers have been managing the transport with many challenges, at times using a personal car, motorcycle or even a bicycle.
Urmila, an outreach worker in Sambalpur, Odisha has been making daily trips to the ART Centre to collect ART drugs for people living with HIV in the surrounding area. Daily, she walks 4-5 kilometres to reach each person and deliver ART drugs at their doorstep. Some of the patients are so moved to receive their medications at the doorstep that they call her god-sent angel. Some of them offered to help and delivered ART drugs to nearby homes.
Pinku, an outreach worker in Katihar, Bihar, has been walking 8-10 kilometres to distribute drugs to reach 3-4 people daily. On one occasion, he witnessed a pregnant woman in labour pain, the family had no way of reaching the civil hospital. He quickly called the project coordinator and facilitated an ambulance.
With his support, the woman was admitted to the hospital on the same day. The outreach workers are truly our frontline heroes.
India has 2.1 million HIV population and our Vihaan programme reaches to nearly 1.4 million. As on 25th of April 2020, these brave outreach workers have successfully provided ART drugs to 60144 PLHIV at their doorstep. And more than 293436 PLHIV have accessed the treatment from the nearest ART centre or our Care and Support Centre after they received a phone call from our outreach workers.
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