This profile was prepared when Renu Rajbhandari was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Like many doctors, Renu feels she must do more than passively treat those illnesses that afflict her patients. Instead, she feels compelled to try actively to prevent diseases that threaten the lives of Nepal's citizens, including attacking the underlying social and economic issues that put people at risk. She recently established the Women's Rehabilitation Center, designed to help women who are culturally discriminated against, such as AIDS patients and former prostitutes. Because AIDS and prostitution are closely linked, Renu is helping to put a stop to the victimization of women that forces them into this means of support and creates a cycle of exposure. Through this center, Renu also extends health services at the grassroots level, and creates greater awareness of AIDS, particularly among this high-risk group. Under the umbrella of the Women's Rehabilitation Center (WOREC), Renu has launched a three-pronged attack against the dangerous cycle by which the majority of poor rural girls go to India to work in brothels, usually returning with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. To help those already suffering from AIDS, she provides counseling and rehabilitation. To help those at risk, she provides information about the dangers of AIDS. And to break the cycle, she helps women establish local enterprises that provide a living without recourse to prostitution. She is convinced that her approach is appropriate for the agrarian rural communities of countries such as Nepal, where women have long suffered from widespread social, cultural, and economic injustice.