New Delhi: Migrant workers are not the only ones struggling for shelter, livelihood and nutrition due to the Covid-19 outbreak and resultant lockdown. Many other vulnerable communities, including transgender persons, injectable drug users (IDU), female sex workers, ‘men having sex with men’ (MSM) and people living with HIV/AIDS approached the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for help, ThePrint has learnt.
Upon receiving these representations, the health ministry has requested the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to include these people in all social protection schemes.
The letter sent to the social justice ministry has been penned by Dr Shobini Rajan, deputy director general of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), which falls under the health ministry.
NACO oversees all the high-risk categories susceptible to catching HIV infections. According to 2012-13 government data, HIV was found to be concentrated among categories like sex workers (2.67 per cent), MSM (4.43 per cent), IDUs (7.14 per cent) and transgenders (8.82 per cent).
“The Ministry of Health has received several representatives from civil society organisations and key members of these communities, showing that the communities are greatly affected in terms of livelihood, nutrition and access to shelter,” said the letter, accessed by ThePrint.
Details of the letter
Titled ‘Inclusion of IDUs, transgender/hijra and other vulnerable groups in all social protection schemes under Department of Social Justice and Empowerment’, Rajan’s letter states: “Ministry of Health is intensely engaged with Covid-19 response and has taken steps to ensure uninterrupted service delivery to those who need essential health services.”
The letter, dated 20 May, goes on to ask the social justice ministry to issue advisories or directives to their state line departments for “necessary actions”.
The letter emphasises the health ministry’s role as a provider of essential services to people living with HIV and others, but says it doesn’t have social protection schemes.
“The Ministry of Health is providing essential services in terms of medicines and other treatments to PLHIV (people living with HIV) and key population through various interventions under the national AIDS control programme, but does not have any social protection schemes related to livelihood, nutrition and access to shelter etc. for these populations,” Rajan wrote in the letter marked to the secretary of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment.
“In this context, it is requested that you may look into the matter and explore the possibility of inclusion of the key population and PLHIV under various social protection schemes that are supported under your ministry,” the letter stated.
Rajan also extended the health ministry’s support to any steps the other department takes, and said it may consult and coordinate with project directors and state AIDS control societies, who will in turn ensure the linkage of these populations to social protection schemes, so that their needs are “partially catered to”.
Not an easy problem to solve
A senior health ministry official told ThePrint that it won’t be easy for any ministry to solve the issue, because of the lack of databases on these vulnerable sections of society.
“We don’t have an authentic database to help these people — especially transgenders, MSMs and IDUs — with cash-benefit transfer mechanisms, like we do for tuberculosis patients,” the official said.
On HIV/AIDS, for example, the central government hasn’t released data since 2017— at the time, the total number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in India was estimated at 21.40 lakh.