Thursday, March 15, 2007

Unique savings scheme aids sex workers - and others

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2007-03-13 09:30:23
Today's Top Headlines
A health-linked savings scheme has given a new meaning to life for thousands of sex workers, members of the transgender community and HIV positive people in Tamil Nadu.
The scheme by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (TAI) and the Voluntary Health Service (VHS) aims at educating the marginalized communities about the benefits of saving. People are encouraged to drop their meagre savings in hundis (mud pots), take them to TAI centres and later open bank accounts.
Said Geeta, a commercial sex worker: 'I have been in the profession for 10 years. It was only recently that I learnt how to save.' Geeta is also a member of the Association for Rural Mass, an NGO that has introduced hundreds of commercial sex workers to anti-AIDS initiatives.
'I saved in a small hundi for the last three years - just Rs.3,750. At the end of January, I started another (hundi). I never had comfortable savings. But this scheme has given me the opportunity to do so,' she added.
The scheme, launched in October 2006, was initially for only three months. They have now continued it among TAI and VHS' 50,000-strong community of high-risk groups like sex workers, transgenders, HIV positive and the destitute.
'Marginalised women and members of the transgender community are unable to protect themselves from violence and infections because of their low negotiating skills. We are working with communities that have no idea what it means to save or open a bank account,' says TAI director Lakshmi Bai.
'Once we initiated the process, we were shocked to find that within three months hundreds of bank accounts were opened,' she exclaimed.
At present, over 6,000 women and transgender people have savings accounts negotiated by TAI.
They take their hundis to the TAI centre and deposit their savings in their respective bank accounts when they go for their monthly health checkups. There are community members who have saved to the tune of Rs.20,000 in three months.
But banks do not want to have the marginalised as account holders, say officials. 'Though I wanted to save money in a bank, I had problems opening an account due to my gender,' Vidya, a transgender person, told IANS.
'This programme has helped me start an account. I've now learnt to differentiate between necessity and luxury. I cut down most of my expenses. Now I am an expert in making flower vases and my savings help me market the products. I am now independent,' said a proud Vidya.
TAI and VHS recently presented awards for the best savers in a contest called 'Naallay Rani' or the 'Queen of Tomorrow'.
Stunned that she had won the best-saver award, Muniamma from Dharmapuri district said: 'I never dreamt that I would win the award with the small amounts of money I set aside. But now I find that my efforts have yielded results.'
Explained Jayashree, TAI's communication officer: 'The idea is not to just reward them for their savings but their consistency and the ability to standout as role models.'
N.S. Murali, honorary secretary of VHS, added: 'Savings is integrally linked to a feeling of well-being and empowerment. Such an event recognises their efforts in accessing health care services and staying healthy.'
Activist Aarthi Pai noted that initial feedback during interactions showed training to save had been most valued by the people.
'The most important thing is that they are now at least tracking how much they earn and spend in a month,' she said.
People are praising the scheme.
'The programme made us think about our future and the need for developing mechanisms to take care of us,' said Sathyavathi, who has saved Rs.7,000 in three months.
Added Jamuna Rani, a former sex worker from Vellore: 'My children have also become 'Naallay Rani'.'
'They asked me about the savings box. When they learnt that we could save, my children got separate boxes of their own,' said Rani, now an AIDS awareness community worker.
- By Papri Sri Raman

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Female Sex Workers are vulnerable for HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh

Mohammad Khairul Alam
Executive Director
“Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation”
24/3 M. C. Roy Lane
Dhaka-1211, Bangladesh
Tel: 88028628908,

The over all HIV/AIDS epidemics situation is low in Bangladesh. But it is increasing very high in some heterogeneous group who are actually vulnerable of HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS spread out very quickly in all over the population. There are many ways in Bangladesh to HIV/AIDS increasing issue.

The cause of poverty, gender discrimination, low prevalence of health facility, lack of reproductively knowledge, illiteracy and high risky behavior may be called epidemic in future of Bangladesh. The atmosphere, which is needed to spread HIV as epidemic of HIV/AIDS, those are present in Bangladesh.

It seems that there are three issues that are appearing to play a crucial position in HIV transmission in Bangladesh: female sex work substance use, Intravenous drug use, professional blood donor and mobility. Female sex workers and their clients have been a major factor in the heterosexual transmission of HIV. Separate but unstable epidemics have been seen in some IDU populations in Dhaka city. And mobile populations, particularly at national borders are at higher risk of HIV acquisition due to the fact of being away from home, community and the anonymity and loneliness of traveling. The following three segments focus on the monitoring of the HIV epidemic in these vulnerable populations.

Commercial/Professional sex workers operate in all over the country. But it is important to know how large the sex-worker population may be to adequately interpret surveillance results. It is hypothetical that in some region, rapid increases in the absolute numbers of sex workers have resulted from significant political, social or economic changes. The nature of sex work and the profile of sex workers vary enormously within and between countries. There are most female sex workers, and those that work full-time, part-time or seasonally. Sex workers may operate in variety of settings such as brothels, riverbanks, bars, parks, under contraction buildings, street corners, hotels, etc. Sex work does not consider in Bangladesh, expect 14 reported brothels. Some HIV/AIDS or social workers suspected that brothel sex worker in Bangladesh is limited, near about 35,000 to 45,000, but other category sex workers is no countable, it is suspected more then 1,00,000. Dhaka city, for example, has approximately 5,000-15,000 female sex workers--an estimate (Source: Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation). In most Cities, however, validated estimates of the numbers of sex workers are almost non-existent.
All estimates require regular updating and validation but these two approaches are worthy of repetition in other settings. Neither method can work without the trust and involvement of commercial sex workers themselves.

Frequency of exposure to HIV infection through sexual intercourse is the key factor for transmission of HIV among sex workers. For example, there are many countries; a significant proportion of sex workers is infected with HIV. The rates might vary from less than 1 percent to 40 percent or higher in some settings.

Even where HIV infection has not yet increase extensively, STD infection is often very high among sex workers. For example, in one brothel area in Bangladesh, 95 percent of 466 sex workers tested positive to antibodies for genital herpes virus and 60 percent for syphilis, although HIV was not detected among any of them. With the sequence of the epidemic, HIV tends to increase where other STDs are present.

There are many aspects to the nexus of drug use and HIV infection, In most of Bangladesh, people who choose to use drugs (Smoking-drug, morphia, heroin, hashish, Medicare-drug some kinds of sleeping pill, cold syrup, injections etc) that are not all socially sanctioned are treated as entirely outside society, enemies even of the social structure. The factor of Injection/ intravenous Drug Users (IDUs), which is directly can influence of HIV/AIDS, STDs/STI. For the majority of injecting drug users (IDUs), it means that lip-service is paid to the principles supposedly learned through the course of the epidemic: in relation to IDUs and the risks of HIV transmission, issues such as human rights, peer education, community participation, and legal and social change are unachievable fictions.

Besides, better estimation of populations at risk (i.e., those currently injecting drugs, or sex partners of IDUs and populations coming to be at risk), and a better understanding of the dynamics of drug utilization and social association of drug use are all necessary for targeting interventions efficiently.

Populations in Bangladesh are moving across land and sea borders in increasing numbers. International trade supports this growth in population mobility, international border between India and Bangladesh, more than 500 trucks come daily. Also occurring in Bangladesh are high levels of maritime trade, and seamen on fishing vessels travel widely in the region, enabling the transmission of HIV to populations in areas where the virus was previously unfamiliar.

Crossing land or sea borders often requires overnight stays, leaving the individual with idle time and opportunities to visit drinking and gambling establishments and brothels. HIV surveillance data for female sex workers, male STD clinic patients and young males at two sea ports – Cittagong & Mongla --show a clustering of high prevalence sites.

Source: Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation