In late March 2020, the government of India ordered a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. Measures taken by the government, such as a ban on public transport and authorization to travel for medical supplies, caused many challenges for people living with HIV – especially those living in the poorest areas. Eldred, Maitri and Loon share their stories on the difficulties faced by people living with HIV in accessing HIV and related services during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in India...
New Delhi, India
I have been living with HIV for the past two decades. I worked as a coordinator for the Bengal Network of Positive People over a decade ago and then a peer counsellor for the Delhi Network of Positive People. I have worked tirelessly, assisting people living with HIV in accessing services and treatment in the public health system. As an activist, I have participated in protests against drug stock-outs and free trade agreements that undermine access to medicines for people in developing countries.
For the past two years, I lived in pain with ulcers in my mouth and was diagnosed with tongue cancer in March 2020. Due to the pain, I was unemployed for the past year, unable to speak or eat properly, and had no means to pay for costly cancer treatment. I was in the more vulnerable category due to pre-existing HIV, and doctors said I would take more time to recover than other clients.
The doctor in the cancer department of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jhajjar, a government hospital, said that I needed to start treatment as soon as possible. However, on the day I was supposed to go for my tests, I discovered that the hospital had been converted to a COVID-19 facility. New cancer clients were told that all appointments were cancelled.
A few days later, I started to bleed profusely from the tongue. My haemoglobin fluctuated and my weight dropped. I approached the government hospital near my home, one of the most respected medical colleges and treatment facilities in the country. They admitted me in the emergency section to stabilize me. But they refused to start cancer treatment. I approached the Delhi High Court, which ordered AIIMS, Delhi, to start my treatment.