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Linking PLHIV to Social Protection Schemes to Survive the Pandemic

Soumita Basu, #COVIDActionCollab

January 21, 2022

The poor and vulnerable communities in India have met through many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social protection schemes can be crucial for the survival of the most marginalised, particularly in the times of a crisis like the pandemic. However, many of them cannot access the social protection schemes designed specially for them. This is mainly because there is 1) lack of awareness on the available schemes, 2) lack of clarity on how to avail them, and 3) lack of proper documentation required to access these schemes.

Bengal Network for People with HIV (BNP), a CAC partner, helped the PLHIV and other marginalised communities like Female Sex Workers (FSW) access social protection schemes. The initial months of the pandemic saw a lot of daily wage earners in urban areas losing their jobs and migrating to their home states. India’s youth has been largely hit by the economic setback. In around 4 districts of West Bengal, BNP and CAC helped unemployed youth register for Yuvasree, a state-specific scheme, to help them avail employment cards and assistance as per their abilities and skills. 

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The volunteers of BNP also helped people register for Swasthya Saathi Bima Yojana, a scheme which provides basic health cover for secondary and tertiary care for up to INR 5 lakhs and also linked women, one of the most affected groups due to the pandemic, avail cash support of INR 500 every month under the ‘Lakshmi Bhandar’ scheme. Tarit, secretary of BNP, says, “The drive to work in the social protection sector came from a sense of urgency to address the needs of the people. It even took us some time to figure out the know-how, but we come from a place of privilege, and the people we are helping don’t. They are not aware of the schemes available for them, and we felt it is our duty to make them aware.”

The ground reality, however, hits harder by the day. Most of the daily wage labourers who migrated from cities and urban areas are unemployed. No jobs and lower incomes are reducing the nutritional consumption of such people. Lack of nutrition makes people more prone to diseases and malnutrition, which then brings the issue of lack of affordable healthcare. BNP and CAC worked together to activate travel cards for the PLHIV community, to ease out their visits to the treatment centres. 

Fear of stigma 

Many belonging to the PLHIV community also fear availing social protection schemes due to the stigma attached to their health condition. If their identities are exposed, they fear being discriminated against, being socially unacceptable or being treated unfairly. To help people overcome stigma, the on-ground volunteers of CAC and BNP provided door-to-door individual and family counseling. This motivated people to avail ration cards and other documents despite strenuous government procedures. “We have time and again advocated social protection schemes for people with inadequate documentation in front of government entities. However, people with HIV fear exposing their identities, which has led to problems,” says Kishore, President of BNP. 

While setting up social protection helpdesks at the community level, there have been many unprecedented challenges, Kishore describes, “Unfortunately, I was heckled by a huge crowd. I was then arrested by the police and taken to a separate area where I was let off. I had never experienced anything like that in my life. The stigma against FSWs and PLHIV communities across India is frightening. There was a demand for donations to the influential clubs and for the general population as well, which we were not ready to fulfill because we are a social organization working for the welfare of vulnerable communities. They, however, wanted us to compromise with our values.”

Bengal Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (BNP), based out of West Bengal, works for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS representing the PLHIV community on the sub-divisional, sub-district, state, national and global level. BNP is working for the PLHIV community, by the PLHIV community and mainly for the rights of the community. BNP, a partner of #COVIDActionCollab, is implementing social protection programs in four districts of West Bengal – Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas for all vulnerable masses.

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