Dr. Nikhat Ifitkar - Pakistan
Helping the most marginalised in order to fight HIV
Dr. Nikhat Ifitkar is a doctor working with Pakistan Voluntary Health and Nutrition Association (PAVHNA). At her clinic, in Gulshan-e-Iqbal town of Karachi, they provide clinical services and educational training on STIs, HIV and AIDS to vulnerable groups, particularly female sex workers.
Dr. Nikhat grew up in Karachi and is greatly inspired by her mother, who married young but then returned to school and got her masters degree in order to work as a lecturer. Dr. Nikhat wants to work for women who are suffering and marginalised as theyÕre not given the choices and information that they need. She says that she first understood the situation facing female sex workers in Karachi while working at a clinic in a slum area.
Although the official HIV prevalence rate of female sex workers in Karachi is quite low, Dr. Nikhat believes this hides the true scale of the problem. It likely has more to do with how little access these women have to healthcare. ItÕs for this reason that itÕs essential to work with vulnerable communities in order to address HIV. Dr. Nikhat stresses that the women she works with have not chosen this life for themselves, but they have no other way to survive. They havenÕt had access to the services or information that the need, including on safe sex practices and abortion.
Many female doctors have come and gone from the clinic where Dr. Nikhat works because of stigma from the community about giving services to female sex workers. But Dr. Nikhat is absolutely clear that whatÕs most important is recognising that these women are equal human beings and must be afforded the respect that they deserve.
The accomplishment that Dr. Nikhat is most proud of is the formation of community-based organisations run by sex workers who have been through PAVHNAÕs training and education programmes. This is a powerful step because it means that whether PAVHNA is there or not, their work will be sustained by these organisations and the sharing of information about health and rights amongst the women themselves.
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