MANAS Bangla, an example of partnership between government and affected communities

MANAS Bangla, today, is a network of 13 community based organisations (CBOs), supported by the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSAP&CS) – the Indian Government’s pivotal State AIDS control body. It came into existence in 2003. “It takes two hands to clap. As much as the community was coming forward it was the government too which was supporting networks. We had a dynamic project director supportive of this initiative” said Mahesh Nathan, Technical Support Unit, West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSAP&CS). He was speaking at the opening plenary of the State Consultation for MSM and Transgender in Science City, Kolkata on 18th March 2010. Read more

“From government side, we were looking at supporting a network. We thought in terms of a network approach, and goal was empowerment” said Mahesh Nathan.

It wasn’t an easy task to bring different CBOs together as a network. But effective solutions to improve AIDS responses for the men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender communities clearly warranted an effective network. There were a host of issues to be resolved before that could happen in West Bengal, and one major challenge was identity issues among others. “As we celebrate success of this network, we need to know that there were a lot of issues earlier. First step forward was that seven groups who came together just to have a dialogue in this direction to create a platform” said Mahesh Nathan.

Building networks is certainly not easy. But united and coordinated responses to AIDS, STI, sexuality related issues and other challenges can potentially come from effective networks. “We wanted an approach that would be a role model– we already had effective CBOs in West Bengal. We wanted a network and ownership from communities of this network in a true sense” said Mahesh Nathan. This community ownership is such a crucial element to ensure that the network remains driven by the community and not get drowned by louder voices. The ownership of MANAS Bangla is undoubtedly with the communities – more than 300 MSM and transgender people from all over the state of West Bengal who are convening for the State Consultation for MSM and Transgender organized by MANAS Bangla are the testimony of the effectiveness of this network approach.

“At every step MANAS Bangla was faced with challenges. They had to come up with pragmatic solutions to strengthen the network” said Mahesh Nathan. “Every time MANAS Bangla was confronted with challenges they rose up and build excellent systems. Today MANAS Bangla is looking at many issues beyond targeted interventions (TIs). Other states of India had individual CBOs funded and here in West Bengal we had a network (MANAS Bangla) through which 13 CBOs were funded. MANAS Bangla came up with unique responses, they have looked at processes and they have put systems in place” further added Mahesh Nathan.

“Now the challenge is how to link the network and targeted interventions (TIs)? What role does the network has and what role TI has? There were so many overlaps between roles of TIs and networks. So we put together a TI team for MANAS Bangla. The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) – apex Government of India’s agency on HIV/AIDS - has reviewed MANAS Bangla and renewed its contract also. As long as ownership and participation of communities is there, MANAS Bangla will continue to function and serve the needs of the communities” said Mahesh Nathan.

“There are other issues apart from HIV where MANAS Bangla could have a role to play. Empowerment, skill building issues, in terms of vocational rehabilitation, etc will lead to sustainability. MANAS Bangla as a network is on the forefront of change and should set the agenda” said Mahesh Nathan.

Published in:
Elites TV News, USA
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
News Trust News, New Delhi, Delhi
World News Report