Aastha Project, Maharashtra
Country of Operation
SummaryThe Aastha project aimed to reduce the incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in the Mumbai and Thane districts of Maharashtra through a number of clinical and social interventions.
Key program components
The name of the project—Aastha (2004-2009), which translates as "to care about" in English—and its logo were chosen by the sex workers. The ensuing branding increased the visibility of services offered and the sense of ownership among the beneficiaries. Their feedback also influenced the design of a reddish-pink condom named "Aastha," whose packaging resembles a mouth-freshener or shampoo sachet. To support the project's objectives and increase the uptake of clinical services, the project began offering a number of additional services: facilitation of school admissions and government ration cards, literacy classes, and training courses in tailoring and other vocations. Sex worker self-help groups contributed significantly to such efforts, in addition to providing psychosocial support for their peers and organizing health camps and condom distribution. To increase accessibility of services and help rapidly scale up service uptake, the project delivered quality STI services in mobile health camps as well as stationary clinics, thus providing services for sex workers who cannot or do not go to clinics. The Aastha Project divided Mumbai and Thane into zones, each with one site manager and 50 sex workers. The site managers were peer educators trained in dialogue-based communication, leadership skills, and group facilitation techniques. Most can now use and analyze elementary plans, lead and facilitate groups, plan and budget health camps, make presentations, and complete service records. In consultation with project staff, these site managers ensured that the minimum package of health, communication, and HIV prevention services reach all sex workers in their zones.