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Interview with Sahara Aalhad, COVID-19 Edition

  • 3 min read


Lucky Iron Fish began working with Sahara Aalhad in 2016 through our impact fund to help address the high rates of iron deficiency anemia in Pune, India, where Sahara works. This mo partnered with Sahara to launch our COVID-19 campaign to provide nutritional relief to the communities Sahara serves. You can contribute here. 

We sat down with Elizabeth Selhore, co-founder of Sahara to discuss the work Sahara is doing to address COVID-19 in the communities they work in.

Tell us about Sahara and the work you do.

I am Elizabeth Selhore, the co-founder of Sahara CFRCAR, and I have been working in the field of empowering vulnerable populations since 1983. I have a specific passion for working with women and children advocating policy change, right to treatment, care and support. Sahara is a reputed NGO known for its ground-breaking work in the field of HIV/AIDS and drug addiction among the disadvantaged groups and vulnerable communities in Pune. The organization has worked for 30 years with most at-risk populations (MARPs), all of whom are exposed to social, economic, and structural barriers that prevent the timely diagnosis and treatment of diseases like HIV and TB. Sahara is a peer-led organization and trains and mentors, as well as employ people from the communities we work with which gives us an absolute breakthrough in these communities who support the services as all services are initiated in consultation with the community.

What is the current situation, like in the community where you work?

Sahara works with two urban slums, Yerwada and Pimpri, and on urban/rural slum Wageshwarnagar. Sahara's clients are mainly People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and street-based Drug Users (DU); many are widowed, single parents, or community orphans. The current pandemic has affected these communities as many are working as daily wagers, maids, drivers, roadside carts, etc. all living below the poverty line, with limited access to safe drinking water, no savings, insufficient food.

Sahara's beneficiaries are on a long-life ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment) drug regimen or a 6 to 9-month ATT (Anti Tuberculosis Treatment) regimen. Once a month, many of Sahara's beneficiaries are required to travel 20 kilometres by public transport, to the government hospital to receive treatment, which is made much harder under lockdown. 

 What is Sahara doing to address COVID 19? What are the main issues that need to be addressed in the community amidst the lockdown? 

Since the lockdown, Sahara has been going out to the local communities to distribute rations and prepared meals for the Sahara Care Home. All staff were given correct PPE and soap to limit contamination. In addition, staff were trained on COVID-19 so they could educate the community, supporting them with helplines to dispel myths and reduce panic. Since the first announcement by the Prime Minister, we have worked with our partners in India to ensure that all our beneficiaries have the necessary items to continue living – ensuring they have safe and good food, and that their required medication is delivered in a timely manner. Due to the supply of masks being low, Sahara stitched three layered masks to distribute within the community to limit the spread. The virus has taught us all to work together, stand united and step up in such a way to win this battle against this virus.

What impact do you think you will see on health and nutrition in the community following COVID 19?

Most people in the community exist on daily wages, just managing to scramble up a meal for the family. As we go further into the COVID19 lockdown, the situation is bound to worsen.

Healthwise, most of our beneficiaries are already immune-compromised, and adherence to their medical regimen is crucial to their well- being and averting drug- resistance is essential. 150 widows living with HIV, having low iron levels, have greatly benefitted by the Shakti leaf kindly donated by Lucky Iron Fish. People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA's) suffer from extreme anaemia and low Haemoglobin counts, and Sahara's plea is more PLWHA's benefit from LIFE's wonder iron ingot!