While social protection mechanisms in India have typically focused on people living below the poverty line (BPL), people living with HIV (PLHIV) may require protection irrespective of their BPL status. This was one of the key messages emanating from a day-long panel discussion on HIV Sensitive Social Protection organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) in New Delhi.
Social protection mechanisms for PLHIV are critical to ensuring they are better able to cope with the social and economic impacts of the epidemic.
Commending India for taking the lead in addressing the social protection needs of PLHIV, Caitlin Wiesen, Resident Representative a.i , UNDP on Tuesday said, "As many as 35 state schemes across India are now benefiting more than 150,000 PLHIV through support that focuses on nutritional needs, transport, housing and pension." "Linking social protection to HIV responses is critical in helping overcome structural inequalities and barriers that people living with HIV face in accessing essential services," she added.
In Rajasthan, the age criterion for accessing the widow pension scheme was revised to help many HIV widows (mostly in their twenties) secure pension. Similarly, legal aid clinics in Tamil Nadu supported by UNDP in 7 districts are now crucial information centres for accessing different schemes and are serving as the model for 16 new clinics that were started by the state government in the past year.
According to Aradhana Johri, Additional Secretary, NACO, "A significant achievement of the National AIDS Control Programme-III has been to empower networks of positive people to strengthen social protection systems. Increased awareness is critical as it puts greater pressure on the demand for services, in turn leading to realization of rights and entitlements".
This emphasis on empowering people is reiterated by a new study titled "HIV Sensitive Social Protection: A Four State Utilisation Study" by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, supported by UNDP and NACO. The study examines the experiences of PLHIV in four states - Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu in accessing schemes relating to food, transportation, pension, housing, education and employment generation. The study released at the session today points to the need not only for a strong policy framework for social protection, but for a vigilant and active community of PLHIV to ensure HIV-sensitive schemes are accessed and utilized fully.