Women who use drugs in India are a highly marginalised and vulnerable population in need of a comprehensive response to meet their health and social needs.
The Chanura Kol is making a huge impact on the lives of women who use drugs in three sites across Manipur – Imphal, Churachandpur and Moreh.
The project was initiated by the India HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance India), in partnership with SASO and support from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The project runs the only drop in centre in Manipur for women who use drugs and offers healthcare, counselling and referrals for sexual health, harm reduction and HIV services.
In a recent baseline study 88% of the women who use drugs questioned reported that they had shared needles and syringes over the previous three months and 42% of the respondents reported inconsistent condom use. In this environment services tailored to these women’s needs are essential.
With the support of the Chanura Kol team Babina (not her real name), a 35-year-old mother of two, has not taken drugs for the past three months. She had been injecting heroin since 1997 and after reducing the doses she was taking, she now feels ready to quit completely. She says the inspiration behind her decision to stop injecting drugs was her children, 14-year-old daughter Thoibi, and younger son Sanathoi.
“Thoibi has told me not to lose heart but to work on my sobriety and try to be more firm with a drug free life,” says Babina, “she also encourages me saying that she would try to convince her uncle to accept me.”
Babina has been ostracised by her family since they found out that she was injecting drugs and supporting herself through sex work.
Most women living at short stay homes are concerned about the protection of children, and this concern can often lead to a relapse. Babina is lucky; she knows that her children are being provided for.
Thoibi is staying with her uncle while Sanathoi, who is living with HIV, was taken into care by the Community Care Centre (CCC). The centre is supported by India’s National AIDS Programme and SASO. Sanathoi has been in care for the past year. He is registered to start antiretroviral therapy when it becomes necessary. Babina hopes to be reunited with her son and daughter soon, and to be able to support them herself.
A new start
When Babina came to the centre she was very ill due to an infection and required hospital treatment. Hospital expenses and medication were paid for by the project. After being discharged from hospital she has been staying at SASO’s short stay home and has joined Chanura Kol’s vocational training programme. With these new skills she plans to return to her home town and set up a small business.
Babina is optimistic about the future hoping that she will be able to support her children and that her family will come to accept her, “I pray to God to give me the strength to be firm in my stand never to take drugs again in my life” she says.