Women, marginalized because of drug use, HIV and gender inequalities are amongst the most affected due to the health and social consequences of COVID-19. The impact is even more severe amongst women who are sex partners of male drug users. Several of them are sex partners of male drug users who don’t engage in high-risk behaviours and yet are at greater risk of HIV, HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) and other infections and health conditions because of the high-risk behaviours of their male sex partners who may be engaging in high-risk drug use and linked sexual practices.
Nationally, 43% of people who inject drugs (PWID) in India are married or with regular sex partners as per the National Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance (IBBS) for the year 2014-15. This explains the potential risks and vulnerabilities of female sex partners (FSP).
Alliance India is developing a comprehensive response to address this situation and serve the FSPs with comprehensive HIV prevention services based on their needs identified through a state of the art needs assessment exercise. This process shaped a pilot intervention in Delhi’s Sundar Nagari where 425 female sex partners are currently accessing comprehensive HIV prevention services. The Delhi State AIDS Control Society (DSACS) under whose aegis Alliance India is implementing the FSP intervention provides routine guidance for ensuring that services are customised to the community needs and feasible within the framework of theNational AIDS Control Programme to facilitate future replication of the model. Alliance India has recently expanded the target to cover more FSPs based on the experiences thus far and to also ensure that during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic additional risks such as gender-based violence (GBV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) don’t impede access to life-saving drugs and support services by this underserved community.
A two-day training on “Addressing GBV and IPV amongst FSP” is currently underway at Alliance India to ensure that both GBV and IPV prevention services form the core of the HIV prevention service package for FSP besides improving their HIV “test and treat”. This, in turn, is expected to improve India’s National AIDS Response efforts by linking FSPs as a critical yet underserved subgroup with FSP friendly HIV prevention services.
We are grateful to the National AIDS Control Programme, Delhi State AIDS Control Society and Frontline AIDS for their generous support for this initiative.
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