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Harm Reduction and Rehabilitation in India

4 April 2008

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David Furnish and Johnny Bergius of the Elton John AIDS Foundation visited India to experience first-hand the result of the Foundation's work.

During their week-long trip they visited a variety of programmes working with HIV/AIDS infected, affected and at risk individuals and families.

They accompanied outreach workers from Sahara  - an organisation supporting residential care and rehabilitation - in conducting needle/syringe exchange with street-based injecting drug users in Delhi. The Foundation funded a new Sahara project to reach out to this community, providing HIV/AIDS information, counselling and testing, a harm reduction and drug rehabilitation programme along with long-term job placements and support for rehabilitated clients to stay healthy, off drugs and managing their own lives.

As well as witnessing the severity of the issues facing street-based drug users, over 30% of those tested were found to be HIV positive, the trustees met with the first patients to have completed their journey through the Sahara programme. These patients are now off drugs, in work and living in a subsidised halfway home as the first step to independent living.

“It was a real inspiration to see the life-changing support provided by this programme. 95% of Sahara staff members are former drug users or HIV positive themselves, so they really understand the issues, and how best to help.” Johnny Bergius

The trustees also participated in a meeting of the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). Drawing together clients, service users and staff from 5 state, the meeting highlighted a range of issues facing HIV positive people in India today including discrimination from health workers, employers, police and family members.

“20 years into the epidemic in India, it is staggering to still find so many people being refused medical treatment and ejected from hospitals, simply because they are HIV positive. HRLN is making small but important steps in highlighting and reversing this practice, but more is needed.” David Furnish

The Foundation’s support of HRLN in pursuing individual cases of discrimination is reinforced by support for their broader work in driving HIV/AIDS policy through public interest litigations. HRLN highlighted their work addressing barriers to accessing treatment for HIV positive people: including availability of services, transport costs and lack of food.