“My daughter is getting married soon. How do I broach the topic of HIV testing to the boy’s side?”
“I am 30 years old. My cousins are fighting with me over property. They threaten to inject me with HIV. Can they harm me?”
“I am a software professional. I am worried about being HIV positive from a previous exposure. Can I start a family?”
“My wife and I are both HIV positive. No doctor is willing to perform MTP on my wife who is pregnant. What should I do?”
These are the type of queries Muktaa HIV/ AIDS helpline counselors receive daily. Muktaa is a Maitri AALAP (AIDS Awareness, learning and practice) initiative in operation since 2nd October, 2005. It was started with the aim to help callers with secure and correct information about HIV/AIDS/STDs in an anonymous way. The need was felt because in India social, cultural taboos prevent free discussion on HIV and sexuality, and so if a person wants to talk about AIDS they have nowhere to go. The experience of the helpline indicates that accurate and timely information not only promotes safer behaviour/practices but also reassures the panic-stricken callers.
HIV is often perceived as a ‘disease of the others’ — of people living in the margins of society, with questionable lifestyles. This prevents people from seeking information and help about the disease. The lack of information leads to ignorance about the threat of HIV, or to panic — both of which are unnecessary. It is not just a medical problem; psychological aspects and social and human rights issues are enmeshed with it.
People need one-on-one advice for their specific situation. While other mass media tools fail to reach out, the phone line is taken as a convenient medium where people can stay anonymous while discussing sexual behaviour. People get referrals to existing services for HIV, which are not widely known or discussed.
Effective counseling over phone by trained professionals not only encourages positive change of behaviour but also instills hope. While answering the calls, care is taken to maintain confidentiality; the counselor is compassionate and understanding and is taught to be non-judgmental about the problems discussed over phone.
MUKTAA Helpline no: 020-25460102
Timings: Monday to Saturday from 9.30 a.m-8.30 p.m.
For more information contact:
“Kalyan”, 32, Natraj Society, Karvenagar, Pune 411052
Ph: 020-2544 3134.Website: http://www.maitripune.org/; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A shopkeeper in Nagpur learnt about how people can live life well even after being infected; he now provides free calls from his phone to Muktaa in a bid to help others.
A thirty-five year old man thought he was HIV positive for the last 10 years. He found that he was not infected after calling Muktaa and getting himself re-tested. ‘I got my life back’, he says.