Eldred Tellis pioneered the “harm reduction” approach to fight HIV/AIDS and eventually drug abuse in India. The ‘harm reduction’ approach allows Eldred to deal with two problems— hygiene of IDUs and the spread of HIV and Hepatitis B & C. This meant reducing harm related to injecting drugs without necessarily giving up drugs. His focus over the last 20 years has broadened to include Hepatitis C within the frame of harm reduction.
Eldred who started his “harm reduction” programme in the North-East in 1992 looking only at providing clean injections by sharing bleach to help them clean, adapted to the situation in North-East India where sharing clean needles and syringes was not allowed. Over the last two decades he has used various education and outreach programmes like the needle and syringe exchange programme where drug users are encouraged to use fresh needles and syringes, providing Opoid Substitution Therapy which gives sublingual buprenorphine helping them keep away from injections to those who voluntarily go to Sankalp, prison interventions through Sankalp’s centre in the Arthur Road Prison using a 4 month abstinence model for those who want to give up drugs, detoxification, rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS care. With the entry point in low threshold programs the Drug users have easy access and come through with discipline and responsibility and lead productive lives.
Peer Educators from Sankalp are involved in counseling drug users to provide constant psychological, medical and legal support and help get them sustainable livelihoods through life skill training programmes like Kotak Mahindra’s CSR taking on Housekeeping or Yuva Parivartan’s modules for electricians, sewing or partnership with hospitals for nurse trainings. Through its various programmes Sankalp has reached more than 10,000 drug users and many more family members. Sankalp has also provides subsidised nutritious meals and other health services. They have been helping clients return to and support their families, become productive members of society, or even die with dignity.
Sankalp with the help of Lawyers’ Collective has been filing PILs as one of the ways of changing the system. As part of this, they have worked on the constitutional duty, Right to Health Care to reinstate the ‘Right to Marry’ for HIV positive people (2002) and won a litigation filed to address barriers that prevented the access of people living with HIV (PLHIV) to health care services, especially discrimination faced by people living with HIV in hospitals. These legal decisions have impacted millions. Eldred has been part of a larger group to lobby for the HIV/AIDS, 2007 Bill now taken on by National AIDS Control Organisation.
The concept of harm reduction has been replicated in India by other organisations including “The 5-city intervention programme” by European Commission implemented by Deutsche Orven International in 1999 and 2006 and The Challenge Fund Project Network which was working on 52 sites in the country, now taken on by NACO for implementation across rest of the country. Today this is called as targeted interventions for injected drug abusers.
Eldred is now planning to consolidate and scale his work while maintaining quality. He is planning to establish jail programmes in Thane and Kalyan jail as well as under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS), increasing capacities of Sankalp’s Pune Drop in Centre.
Note: This was updated in December, 2013. Read on for the ELECTION profile