India opens health clinic run entirely for and by LGBT people

Transgender activists and their supporters take part in a candle light vigil.

India has opened the doors to its first health clinic run entirely for and by LGBT+ people.

The healthcare centre, located in Mumbai, employs LGBT+ receptionists, pharmacists, and counsellors to provide the most comfortable experience for its patients.

Vivek Anand, CEO of the Humsafar Trust, who opened the clinic in February spoke about its importance to The Guardian.

“Over the years, 30-40 percent of the individuals who tested HIV-positive at our clinic disappeared at some point during their [ARV] treatment at government hospitals,” Anand told the Guardian.

“Half of them never even showed up. More than discrimination, self-stigmatisation keeps the community away from accessing treatment,” Anand explained.

It is estimated there are about 2.1 million people are HIV-positive in India, one of the highest rates in the world. Discrimination against gay and trans people can limit their access to treatment and services.

LGBT+ people have been turned away from other clinics

“We have known days when trans communities could not get past the doors of any public healthcare deliveries in India. Security does not let them in,” Anand said.

2016 report on trans health in India found that two-thirds of transgender people had no access to treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Only 59 percent had been referred for HIV testing.

The Guardian spoke to Sharma, who defines as bisexual, while he was waiting in the clinic after being transferred from a government hospital.

“In any other [antiretroviral] waiting room of the city, I wouldn’t have been at such ease,” Sharma said. “The crowd there would have immediately labelled me as homosexual and made sure I felt unwelcome.”

The eight-room clinic sees a majority of people who belong to the lower socio-economic strata, according to Anand. “So treatment is free and voluntary donations are appreciated,” he added.

There are separate therapists for pre- and post-HIV testing, as well as general counsellors, and a social support group that meets monthly.

India’s ‘historic’ law for people with HIV or AIDS

In 2017, India passed a law ensuring equal rights for people with HIV or AIDS. The country’s Parliament in New Dehli passed the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, outlawing discrimination against those with the infection.

At the time then Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda said the bill showed the government “stands committed for free treatment of HIV patients.”

The bill made it illegal for a patient’s HIV status to be revealed without their consent, and ongoing research and strategies were developed to tackle the spread of the infection.