In a country with the third-highest HIV burden in the world – over 2.1 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) – AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) India increased its efforts to provide free HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment to those who need it most by opening its Center of Excellence ART Clinic in New Delhi on Sep. 12.
The state-of-the-art facility, also dubbed “The People’s Clinic,” offers a safe, stigma-free environment and is a one-stop shop for a variety of HIV services, including: antiretroviral therapy (ART); free rapid HIV testing; counseling; extensive laboratory services; consultations with specialists; a pharmacy; and free condoms.
The opening is the result of an over-two-year effort to find a new and improved, client-friendly space and is built on AHF’s work that has been done in New Delhi since 2007. The clinic will be the first of its kind in India, operating 12 hours per day, six days per week. The extended hours will serve the general public and incorporate an evening “Moonlight Testing” shift designed to deliver HIV testing to the most marginalized communities, including LGBTI, PLHIV, injecting drug users and sex workers.
“AHF applauds India for recently decriminalizing sex between homosexuals, but HIV and those it affects most are still highly-stigmatized throughout the country,” said AHF India Cares Country Program Manager Dr. V. Sam Prasad. “Building owners repeatedly turned us down due to their fear of HIV, so it’s very inspiring that we overcame numerous obstacles and are finally opening the clinic. This People’s Clinic will complement the national AIDS response very well and is major milestone in ensuring everyone in India will be able to access HIV services.”
To limit stigma and help make clients more comfortable, the clinic utilizes staff who are part of the LGBTQI community, as well as PLHIV, who will work to ensure adherence to treatment through specialized peer counseling services. The facility will also be the only ART clinic in India that provides first-, second- and third-line treatment protocols, as well as up to a six-month supply of antiretroviral medicine to clients who are forced to travel great distances to access treatment.
“This was a day to celebrate in Delhi. We welcomed the support and appreciation from UNAIDS, India’s National AIDS Control Organization [NACO], the Canadian High Commissioner and many Members of Parliament who all made strong commitments to step up India’s efforts to stop HIV/AIDS. We will strive to serve people living with HIV/AIDS in Delhi with life-saving treatment as well as step up our testing efforts to link people in need of care. Together we can do it. With the repeal of Section 377, it’s a new day in India. Stigma can and must be overcome to ensure health. We are committed and here to help. AHF has a great team in India and they will lead the way,” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Policy and Advocacy.
The clinic’s opening was covered by nationwide media outlets including The Hindu, India CSR and others, and was also attended by AHF Chief Financial Officer Lyle Honig and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, AHF Global Ambassador and India’s only openly gay member of a royal family.
“This has been one of the best weeks in the history of India,” said Prince Manvendra, “After having done away with Section 377, I am happy to be the AHF Ambassador and part of the inauguration of the People’s Clinic. We are very happy that AHF is opening this facility to provide the LGBTQI community and others across India with HIV services in a non-stigmatizing environment.”
AHF India currently serves approximately 1,300 clients through its first clinic that was launched in 2007, and hopes to be providing HIV services to over 2,000 by the end of the year with the newest opening.