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#SwasthyaMantra Telethon: What Are The Challenges Faced By The LGBTQIA+ Community Amid COVID-19?

The LGBTQIA+ community during the COVID-19 lockdown is suffering from various challenges including isolation and stigma, along with the issues in accessing healthcare facilities

#SwasthyaMantra Telethon: What Are The Challenges Faced By The LGBTQIA+ Community Amid COVID-19?
  • Trans are most visible sexual minority: Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
  • RB plans to reach 100 plus community-based organisations across India
  • Public health aims to help those who are vulnerable: Dr Bilali Camara

New Delhi: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, as billions are suffering, perhaps there has been little or no focus on some of the most vulnerable groups of our society. These groups include those living in the marginalised communities, like the LGBTQIA+ population. The LGBTQIA+ community, during the COVID-19 restrictions, has been suffering from various challenges including isolation and stigma. In the Season 7 of NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign’s 12-hour #SwasthyaMantra telethon, the plight of the community took the front stage, as several experts highlighted the challenges being faced by them during the pandemic.

Talking about these challenges, Ashok Row Kavi, Founder and Former Chairman, Humsafar Trust and Editor, Bombay Dost said,

After COVID-19 hit the ground, we could see that on the streets, police were beating up hijras to not be there, but that is the only way they can earn a living in our country.  They can either beg or do congratulation ceremony or be a sex worker. That’s how they make a living. But they were at the receiving end of the violence from police. They are human beings too, they need support, they need money to survive. Being a citizen of the country, the country owes them at least support in terms of livelihood, food, and drinking water. We say all time to wash hands to avoid COVID-19, but where is the access to clean water for them? Their situation is bad. They will not only beg, they will do anything to get a mouthful of food. We have not gotten any government help.

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Further discussing how trans community was affected by the pandemic in particular, Laxmi Narayan Tripathy, Transgender Rights Activist at the telethon talked about the needs of the community at this point of time. She said,

The transgender gets hit the worst because we are the most visible sexual minority. I always say that we may not die with COVID, but with hunger. The most relevant issue for the community right now, amid the pandemic, is of shelter, food and access to quality health. The issue is that today, the trans community has no food to eat, they are ready to do anything to earn money. The sex work of transgender community is pushed by society because we are not accepted by them.

Ms Tripathy said that the government has made their best efforts but at the end of the day, we need society to be accepting.

I collaborated with many NGOs to help the community. Transwomen are facing serious issues, but transmen are also struggling in their own way. That is because of patriarchy, which does not let them live in peace. Many times, they are killed due to honour killing and raped. More than 55,000 kits we have distributed and I received support from donors.

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Mr Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs & Partnerships, RB at the 12-hour #SwasthyaMantra telethon said that in the next one year, the company plans to reach out to 100 plus community-based organisations in India. He explained,

In the earlier days of my career, I helped set up more than 35 community-based organisations for the LGBTQIA+ community, where the main focus was on HIV testing and Hepatitis B testing. In 2020-2021, we at RB plan to reach out to 100 plus community-based organisations across India. We have a dedicated team which is working ethnographically on the needs of the communities We are also helping those who are struggling to access food. We have met over 800 people who were food-less for 10-15 days on an average. They were surviving on water.

Mr Bhatnagar said that he reached out to Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, who suggested him to first focus on food security needs for the society. Along with Ms Tripathi’s advice, he said that we all know that there’s such a plight that the trans community is forced to sell their bodies to make ends meet. This increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections by manifold. Amid the pandemic, STI clinics are closed or semi-operational, you are not getting treatment for HIV, Mr Bhatnagar said and added,

So, we are going to set up a module for self-assessment, like the Aarogya Setu app, wherein you can do your self-risk assessment, in the same way on your phone, by answering some questions and seek help accordingly. We have mapped the services, private service providers. Our aim is to strengthen the community because their vulnerability is at peak right now. Furthermore, trans kids, who are either double orphan, maternal orphan or paternal orphan, and during the migration, they had no one to take care of them because the belonged to the LGBTQIA+ population. In my personal capacity as well, I took care of at least 200 kids during this health crisis. It’s not because they needed me but because saw that there is no other place for them to go. I reached out to several shelter homes where they can be placed but everything was closed and I didn’t know how to provide food, water and shelter. I made some schools accommodate them and facilitated community kitchens to provide them with the food and this practise is continued till today.

Also Read: COVID Warriors: Meet Bharti Kumari, A 12-Year-Old Girl Who Makes Masks For Her Community

Also elaborating on the vulnerability of the community towards HIV, Mr Kavi said,

The fact that you have to sell your body to get a mouthful of food, you are making yourself vulnerable. Having sex on the street without condoms, there are high chances of HIV spreading into the community, but they can’t afford condoms. There are dating sites, where you can see young transgenders are selling themselves so that they can pay rent, or get food and water. So, you have to understand the vulnerability of these young transgenders.

Dr Bilali Camara, UNAIDS Country Director, India, also talked about the issue at the telethon.

Public health aims to help those who are vulnerable, we are urging the government to set up public healthcare centres for the key populations, especially amid a pandemic like the one we are facing now. If we want to have a real-life solution, we need to be proactive, he highlighted.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.  

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