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Vaccine For All: Reaching The Unreached People Living With HIV

Mansha Vij, #COVIDActionCollab

October 29, 2021

Vaccine is crucial for everyone to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, it plays an even more significant role for some who are more susceptible to being infected. People living with HIV (PLHIV) have lowered immunity which makes them more vulnerable to the attack of the deadly virus. Many community based organizations (CBOs) are working to support and accelerate the efforts of the governments to vaccinate everyone, and CBOs like Bengal Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (BNP) are particularly focused on giving this shield of protection to the vulnerable PLHIV community. As #COVIDActionCollab partners, they are implementing the vaccination drives in four districts of West Bengal – Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas – which is not just for PLHIV community but for the general population as well.

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Since BNP is an organization set up for and by the PLHIV community, the people found it best to be the voice of reason themselves. The board members decided to fight the vaccine hesitancy in the PLHIV community by taking the vaccine themselves and putting it up on social media for awareness. Through several such videos and messages, BNP continues to make people aware about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines on HIV patients. “We told people about the side effects such as body ache and nausea. We met a lot of people who were unsure about whether they should take medicines and vaccines together. We addressed many such issues through our videos on Facebook and were successful,” says Tarit Chakraborty, secretary of BNP and is himself living with HIV.

It has been working to spread vaccine awareness through organizing vaccination camps since July 2021 and have vaccinated more than 200 people. Through its vaccination awareness, BNP has been able to reach around 13000 PLHIV patients across Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas to address their doubts related to vaccines. They work closely with Family Planning of India in their vaccination mobilization efforts. BNP also runs vaccination drives for people with disabilities, or general communities, along with camps for monitoring non-communicable diseases such as anemia, diabetes, which make people more susceptible to COVID-19. They are specially steering their efforts towards reaching those who are difficult to reach.

BNP President Kishore explained that they are expanding their work, beyond PLHIV community, “If we did not become CAC partner and start the vaccination camps, we would not have been able to reach the number of people we have reached until now. If we continue like this, I hope we will be able to cover more districts and reach maximum people in the state,” and then with a glitter in his voice he added, “Till now, our community has been receiving support from others. Today we feel proud that we are contributing to the lives of others and helping even the general population get vaccinations, helping them be safe. BNP is run by PLHIV and for them, but today in the pandemic we worked for others too. It’s special for us.”

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