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In Conversation With Prasanthi Gandhi

Nirmala Garimella

AIDS: The statistics are alarming. There are 5.1 million Indians infected with the disease. India is second to South Africa in the number of HIV cases. India accounts for 10% of the global HIV burden and 65% of that in South and South East Asia. One in every 8 HIV- infected people worldwide is in India …. The number is growing by 500,000 a year.  With all this, is India waking up to demonstrate sufficient social responsibility? Is there enough government involvement and awareness to deal with this epidemic? Are they enough NGO’s and other developmental organizations that can bring significant change? According to Prasanthi Gandhi, Director of SAATHII, USA (Solidarity & Action against the HIV Infection in India) a charitable organization, the reply is positive. The reason behind this is a concerted and combined effort of many organizations to bring awareness to the disease. In fact SAATHII was born out of such a need.

 Prasanthi Gandhi is a graduate of Columbia University in the area of Public Health and worked in UNICEF for two year before she left the organization and joined SAATHII full time as its Director in the US.
Lokvani talked to Prasanthi Gandhi about SAATHII’s mission and work

Tell us about SAATHII’s and its work in the area of AIDS prevention and treatment?

 SAATHII has been the brainchild of several people who came together. But it was Dr Subhasree Raghavan, Founder and President of this organization who took the vision and moved it forward. At one of the international AIDS conference, a group of concerned individuals voiced their concern for HIV in India and thought of a unique way to deal with the problem. They realized that instead of duplicating the efforts of various NGO's there was a vital need to support and strengthen existing preventions and treatment services which was the biggest gap at this point.

What are the objectives of SAATHII?

SAATHII is a capacity building organization. In that sense we are unique. We have four general objectives. We provide technical and financial assistance to select organizations for scale up of services, offer networking opportunities to various sectors to discuss and maximize their resources, practice advocacy with the government and other private agencies for increased attention and disseminate information for information and resources.

What have been your efforts so far in India?

 SAATHII works throughout India, but our focus has been in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh ( which  has shown alarming rates of HIV and AIDS). Our current project  is in Hyderabad on the children affected with AIDS.  SAATHII has just received funding from Johnson& Johnson for this purpose.

Also recently, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), UK, has awarded funding to Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society (TANSACS). SAATHII serves as the technical coordinator for this project by specifically providing technical, operational and administrative assistance. The purpose is to expand antiretroviral treatment to 1000 parents/family members and care and support (including nutrition support) to 4000 parents/family members of HIV infected and affected children to prevent children being orphaned in the State of Tamil Nadu.

 What have the major hurdles faced by organizations such as yours?

 In India, the biggest challenge is stigma. Social taboos are in plenty.  Then some state governments are readier than the others to give support. There is also the problem of the actual statistics of the prevalence of AIDS. We need trained health workers including doctors, nurses, social workers and counselors with the knowledge and experience to deal with this epidemic. We need involvement at every district level. The list is never ending …. At SAATHII our goal is to choose the most needed program but which is least served.

Could you tell us more about SAATHII USA ?

 There are around 20 people in the US volunteering actively for SAATHII. We have a Volunteer Placement Program where we provide Indian NGO’s with skilled volunteers to support them in strengthening and expanding their HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services. As an added point, the program serves to inspire service and civic responsibility, educate on India and its development and build leadership and public skills.
A Master’s degree is recommended.

 SAATHII USA also is developing a Drug Donation program that will support leadership of non governmental organizations by providing HIV positive leaders with a continuous supply of second-line antiretroviral medications.

SAATHII USA is involved in providing financial and technical assistance for the program taking place in Andhra Pradesh for children affected by HIV/AIDS. The Program’s name is AIDS Orphan Community Care Program. We are also looking to develop a child sponsorship program.

What are the upcoming efforts of SAATHII in the US?

Dr Subhasree Raghavan will be participating with a select group of leaders in the first groundbreaking Global AIDS simulation on September 26th-27th in Washington DC. Participants will work directly with their peers to strategic responses to HIV / AIDS that target resources and coordinate policy on a national level in two case countries, India and Nigeria. The simulation will result in a global HIV policy agenda that will be presented to the U.S. Senate on September 28th , 2005 and linked to a series of high-level advocacy meetings with governments in donor countries.

 We have two fundraising events coming up. The first event is a Charity Auction on World AIDS day that is on December 1st. Our goal is to raise $5000 by World AIDS Day. This will be done through an online auction that will last two weeks at the end of November and a silent auction in Boston.

 SAATHII USA has also partnered with AIF ( America India Foundation) to screen a Bollywood film ‘My brother Nikhil’ and it will be shown in Chicago, LA and Boston in October and November 2005. We hope to bring awareness of the stigma faced by this gay community and others affected by HIV/AIDS.


 To know more about SAATHII and its various activities go to http://www.SAATHII.org /saathiiusa.



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