Do not discriminate against people living with HIV/AIDS Dr KK Aggarwal, Editor in Chief eMedinewS and IMA News in conversation with Dr Glory Alexander, Director ASHA Foundation, Bangalore. Dr Glory Alexander has been honored with Dr BC Roy National Award for the year 2010 under the category of ‘Outstanding services in the field of Socio-Medical Relief’. Dr KK: Tell us about your journey so far. I completed my graduate (MBBS) and post graduate training in Internal Medicine from Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore in 1986. Then I worked in the Bangalore Baptist Mission Hospital till 1998. During the 90s, there was much concern in India about HIV/AIDS. There was huge stigma and discrimination towards this disease. At this time, I moved full time into working in the field of HIV/AIDS and founded the ASHA Foundation in 1998. The ASHA Foundation provides a range of services in the field of HIV/AIDS. • Counseling and testing services: We started the first private automated AIDS Helpline in the Country which received almost 400,00 calls; more than 20,000 manual telephone calls; 8000 counselling sessions. In addition there are email queries and awareness programs among vulnerable communities conducted under this component. • Adolescent health education: A Teachers’ manual was developed in-house and taught to students by trained teachers. So far more than 2500 teachers have been trained all over the country. About one lakh students have used the curriculum in the past and currently more than 300 schools, colleges and other institutions are participating in the program. About 40,000 students in Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bangalore, Mangalore, Mysore, Kolar, Hunsur, HB Kote, Koppal, Shimoga, Dakshin Kannada and Hubli are doing the program. The students have student workbooks and a parents manual have also been developed. • Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT): In partnership with some hospitals in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, ASHA Foundation has worked in the field of PMTCT. So far 1,64,064 pregnant mothers have been tested for HIV; of these, 855 were diagnosed as HIV-positive and treated with anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and other measures so that the children would be born HIV-negative. In our cohort we have brought down the risk of transmission from 30% to less than 2%. So far in our partner hospitals we have trained more than100 nurses and 40 other staff as counsellors, sensitized around 2000 doctors and other staff on PMTCT, and around 20,000 other nurses, nursing and medical students, ward aides, paramedical workers. Community health workers and community have been sensitized about HIV/AIDS and PMTCT. • Camp Rainbow: This is a psychosocial intervention where we take HIV-positive children, between 10 and 16 years of age, to a residential summer camp for 5 days and teach them life skills, health and hygiene, arts and crafts, knowledge of HIV/AIDS, environment preservation etc. These camps have improved their self-esteem, confidence, ART adherence and social behavior. Children from Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya, Kolar, Ramnagara and Andhra Pradesh have attended these camps. We also train volunteers from colleges who give 3 weeks of their time night and day to help in these camps. • Support for children and their families: The care component includes medical care and support to a large number of HIV- positive individuals and their families through provision of ART, treatment for TB and opportunistic infections, care for HIV-infected and affected children through educational support, nutritional support and ART , empowerment of women through knowledge creation, vocational training, job placements, micro-credit and formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs), with SHG bank accounts. • HIV Research: ASHA Foundation is recognized as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organization by the Dept. of Science and Technology, Government of India, focusing on Clinical research in Prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV infection, adults with HIV, children with HIV, adolescent health education, counselling in HIV, and socioeconomic aspects of HIV. Currently, six research projects are in progress. • Advocacy: Facilitation of free legal services for HIV infected women, facilitation of free housing for women under Rajiv Gandhi housing, facilitating access to government schemes such as widows’ pension and facilitating educational support for children through CWC. Dr KK: You have also received numerous honors and awards. I received RV Rajam 81st Birthday Commemoration Gold Medal 1986 from Madras University for the first rank in MD Internal Medicine. • International Ashoka Fellowship Award for innovative work in HIV/AIDS. • National Rajiv Gandhi Rashtriya Ekta Award for services rendered in the field of HIV/AIDS. • Best Research Paper Award in National AIDS Conference held in Hyderabad in 2010. • Karamveer Global Fellowship award I have been an advisor for WHO and member of the draft committee of WHO to draft a policy on ‘provider initiated testing and counseling’ and have been an Invitee to many expert National and State technical Committees. I have also been a resource person at State, National and International fora and made numerous presentations I have served as the vice president of the AIDS Society of India, member of the Governing Council of the AIDS Society of India and member of the International AIDS Society besides being on the boards of other organizations. I have been interviewed on BBC’s Health Program, and several radio programmes and several articles about my work and the ASHA Foundation have appeared in newspapers over the years. Dr KK: Tell us about your family My husband is an orthopedic surgeon and presently consultant at World Bank. He is also the Founder Executive Director of AHPI. I have two children, one son-in-law and one granddaughter. Dr KK: How does it feel to receive this prestigious award? I feel elated, humbled and grateful to God. Dr KK: What would be your message to the community? With advent of ART, people living with HIV/AIDS have an almost normal lifespan and contribute in meaningful ways to society, so they should not be discriminated against. Dr KK: What changes do you suggest in health policies? To provide quality and affordable healthcare to all section of society by training adequate number of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, increasing the number of seats UG and PG and allied health professionals.