Mental divide between HIV and non-HIV work should dissolve

The debate related to vertical single-issue interventions versus integrated and comprehensive programmes is not a new one. Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS collaborative programmes have borne fruits – and maximised resources too – particularly in one of the most hard-hit regions, although a lot more needs to be done on that front as well. Read more

“The mental divide between HIV and non-HIV work is a topic of subsequent discussion. Mental health issues and other barriers MSM have in accessing services need to be addressed too” said Aniruddh Vasudevan, Director, The Shakti Centre, Chennai. Aniruddh was speaking at the State Consultation for MSM and Transgender, in Science City, Kolkata. This Consultation was organized by MANAS Bangla with support from Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) India and West Bengal State AIDS Prevention & Control Society (WBSAP&CS).

“In a study done in Chennai where 220 MSM participated, one of the findings was that only 26% respondents had ever accessed HIV services” said Aniruddh. The data may be debated, but the assumption that HIV interventions are reaching out to all MSM and transgender people is probably not right. In the Chennai study, 74% of MSM and transgender respondents had never accessed HIV services. Also the needs of the MSM and transgender community go beyond HIV related services.

“Getting these MSM and transgender people who are not yet reached by HIV interventions, is a challenge” says Aniruddh. And solution might lie in integrating MSM and transgender component in other interventions like those on sexual and reproductive health services, mental health services, and other areas in order to move towards a sustainable community development approach.

Mental health professionals need to be sensitive to MSM and transgender issues. “My work in the past has been around mental health issues of LGBT people. It is a crisis – number of psychiatrist and quacks who are offering therapies to ‘cure’ MSM and Transgender people and number of parents who are seeking out such services is alarming” said Aniruddh.

“The drop-in centres and other AIDS-related healthcare service centres are providing counselling for HIV to MSM and transgender people, but counselling for mental health issues is not being looked upon adequately” said Aniruddh Vasudevan.

“Many transgender people in Tamil Nadu are school drop-outs. Many transgender activists who went for sex reassignment surgeries in Tamil Nadu broke down, cried, due to the trauma and insult they had to face while going through the psychiatric counselling process” said Aniruddh Vasudevan.

“We are not looking at working with parents of MSM and transgender people. The number of parents who have started calling us, or want to know what to do if their children have gender identity related problems has upped remarkably. We don’t have resources to attend to this crisis – parents and siblings are at times don’t know whom to talk to, and they can potentially be very supportive if engaged properly” says Aniruddh.

The need for collaborative and holistic approach to help better the quality of life of MSM and transgender people is undoubtedly compelling, and goes beyond HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes. Let us hope that different government and non-government development interventions will listen to these voices coming out of the State Consultation for MSM and Transgender in Science City, Kolkata.

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