It was the year 2004, I was sitting on a bench at the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC) awaiting my test result. The waiting period seemed longer than usual. Finally, a counsellor at the centre called me inside her office and murmured, “Your test has come back positive, I am sorry, but you are HIV+”. Being a regular visitor at the centre for over a year, I was struggling to be healthy, I imagined a different response and was not all prepared for the result. Thinking of the day, even to this day, I am not able to explain what exactly was going inside my head, I felt my world collapsing and my heart was beating faster than ever. As I reached home in the evening, I broke down uncontrollably in front of my parents. But to my amazement, my parents accepted me with an open heart and asked me about the scope of available treatment options. Continued counselling from the ICTC counsellor made me stronger enough to take charge of my life. She was my mentor, I became healthier as soon as I started my 1st line Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). I realised and witnessed the importance of mentorship, the power and support it offers, I knew at that time what I wanted to do ahead with my life, I wanted to be a mentor and help people affected by HIV.
In 2007, I started fighting a new battle by forming a district level network for PLHIV. It was indeed greatly satisfying to be nominated as the President of my network. I was happy that my community reposed their faith in me and my leadership. Communities and frontline workers need technical support, handholding and motivation, and if we get it then we can move mountains. Gradually, with time our network strengthened and grew.
I came to know about Nirantar and the mentorship model through Odisha State AIDS Control Society (SACS), and I decided to associate with them. I am now a part of the mentorship programme for over a year. Biswamitra Harpal says ‘by being part of the programme he was able to work with KPs on prevention services, address their fears, and misconceptions especially where societal stigma is prominent.’ Harpal further adds that, ‘structural and policy level barriers included facility based distribution of condoms, and limited package of services with virtually no access to lubricants or support to the sex workers who faced violence from their clients..’
Frontline workers mentored by Biswamitra says, “His mentorship has not only strengthened the technical areas in the targeted intervention programmes, but also was crucial in reaching out to KPs living with HIV and linking them to ART centers for treatment.
At present, Biswamitra Harpal is a member of many state level committees moderated by the Odisha SACS and has been instrumental in fighting stigma and discrimination faced by key population comprising of PLHIIV communities in the state of Odisha.
The author of this blog is Subhajit Pakira – State Coordinator: Nirantar, Odisha
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