Health work started with leprosy and moved on to tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, all are stigmatised diseases. Like other NGOs we fill gaps in government services but the main focus is to promote, advocate for and support government services and encourage people to use them.
We run a 20 bedded ward mainly for HIV related complications. Often patients are not sick enough to be admitted into the government hospital and some only need rest and respite. But on the other hand we also provide terminal care. Leprosy and tuberculosis patients are also admitted into the ward. There is a daily out patient clinic for all who come but we specialize in HIV affected, those with skin complaints to detect leprosy and those with cough to detect TB.
We run an Indian government funded ‘Designated Microscopy Centre’ to detect and treat tuberculosis. We follow up the local patients whether treated by us or by the Government Primary Health Centres. Others with TB are referred to centres close to where they live – many of these are co-infected with HIV and TB.
We work closely with, and financially support the Theni ‘Positive (HIV) Persons Association’ and “Positive Women’s Networks” in eight districts to follow up HIV infected children and adults. Partner NGOs help us to follow up cured leprosy patients to promote self care to prevent further disability.
All the health work is done in close cooperation with the government health and medical services with which we have a good relationship. Patients are referred to and from government hospitals and all the TB drugs and antiretrovirals to treat HIV are provided by government. We work most closely with the government centres for HIV, TB, leprosy and with the local primary health and counseling centres.
Arogya Agam was the first NGO in the area to start HIV prevention activities in the 1980s. In the 1990s we were the first to provide HIV care and the first to provide antiretroviral drugs. Between 1997 – 2005 we trained over 400 NGOs in HIV prevention and mainstreaming. After the Tsunami of 2004 we were the only NGO promoting much needed HIV prevention activities.
Arogya Agam was among the first in India to use volunteers or ‘peer educators’ among women in prostitution and we were at the forefront of developing this model which is used today all over India. Currently we run what is called a ‘Targeted Intervention’ for a 1000 sex workers in Theni District which is fully funded by government. Staff work with volunteers to promote condoms and to assist sex workers to go for regular medical check – up to government hospitals. A number of the sex workers are transgendered people (biologically men but feel they are women).
Gays and men with alternate sexuality are highly at risk through unsafe sex. National level and NGO programmes tend to miss out this highly stigmatized group. We have started an experimental programme working through ‘Safe Sex Role Models’.
More recently we have started work with HIV positive women’s networks in 8 Districts. The main focus is to ensure HIV infected children access care, and that HIV positive pregnant women use government services to ensure that they do not transmit HIV to their newly born children. Due to this work hardly any children are now born with HIV in these 8 districts. We also provide some temporary financial support to families with sick HIV infected children or children who need to start on antiretroviral drugs. This support can make all the difference and it can cost as little as £20 (Rs 2000) to save a life!