Valuing children living with HIV

BY CLARA A RODRIGUES | NT NETWORK
Worldwide, millions succumb to AIDS each year. An equal number die silently much before their time because of the lack of health facilities and the ostracisation they have to face because of their HIV status.

The plight of children whose parents have AIDS has assumed a matter of priority. To highlight issues these children face, World AIDS Orphans Day was instituted on May 7.
Children whose parents have AIDS in many cases are also HIV affected which makes it difficult for them to adjust to normal activities. People do not generally view a child with HIV as a morality issue, which they would normally attribute to an adult with HIV. But nonetheless, these children often have to face a lot of discrimination, which most of the times does irreparable damage to their morale and zeal to live.
In Goa, like in other parts of the world, there are many organisations and NGOs working for the welfare of people living with HIV.
Rev Fr Valeraiano Vaz, the director of Caritas, Goa, a church-based social outreach organisation, that also run Asro at Tivim - a shelter home for kids living with HIV informs that Asro started with 3 kids but the number has increased to 32 now.  He says, “Many children are from families who have settled in Goa.  These children are abandoned after the death of one or both parents and there is nobody to look after them because of the stigma. Asro was started in 2002 by Dr Philomena who was the HOD at the GMC, later we started looking after it.” 
The children at Asro play around like any other children, because they are like any other. Special in their own right, the sisters and volunteers lavish love on these children. Asro which means shelter in Konkani offers children with HIV a warm hearth. Here, they are not treated differently.
Says Rev Fr Vaz: “These children can be brought up in a family environment too. We try as much as possible to facilitate, promote and encourage these children to remain in their families. We try to get them into the mainstream by helping them get recognition, and helping them interact with people.”
“Children who are able to cope up with the pressures of school life are sent to regular schools. Many of these children have excelled in their classes with some even topping the class. Those who cannot cope with academic pressures, for them we have started a school in Asro itself,” he says further. 
The yeoman service NGOs and other organisations have done for people living with HIV is noteworthy.
But stigmatisation, however subtle, does exist when viewing these special children. A volunteer at a shelter house that looks after children with HIV says that in Goa the number of cases where children are stigmatised due to their HIV status is less. “But that does not mean stigmatisation is absent.  A child may feel different from the rest when he questions as to why he or she falls sick more often than the rest of the kids in his class. But the most stinging form of such difference is seen in the vicinity of the child, such as the playground. When they play with the children in the neighbourhood they have to put up with comments.
Stigmatisation occurs because people fear they will contract the disease, which reflects their lack of knowledge. The law in India prohibits stigmatisation of persons on grounds such as their HIV status and underlines strong action against those who discriminate on this basis. 
Priscilla Barretto, who often spends time with these special children, says of her experience with them: “It is for no fault of theirs that these children have to suffer. They long for parental love.” Although HIV makes one susceptible to a number of diseases, the hope with which these children live is amazing. “These children are not scared. This is how we encourage them to live-live life to the fullest. Special care is taken of their diet, they are sent for monthly monitoring, given medicine,” says Priscilla.
Dr Wanda Viegas, who frequently interacts with HIV children as part of her work observes, “Parents who are affected with HIV are not all that forthcoming in getting their child tested and treated.”
To sensitise people to the cause of AIDS orphans, FXB India Suraksha - Goa Branch in collaboration with the Goa State AIDS Control Society, Zindagi Goa and World Vision are holding a program on the occasion of World AIDS Orphan Day today at Mangor Sports Club Hall from 2.30 p.m. Dr Pradeep Padwal, of the Goa State AIDS Control Society (GSACS) says: “We want to observe this day so as to invite people’s attention towards the problems these children face.”  Dr Padwal throws light on the incidents of stigmatisation towards these children in the state. He says: “I do not think such cases occur as these children are not brought up in society but instead live in orphanages.” When asked what measures the GSACS was taking to help bring these children into mainstream life, he said: “There are two sides to the coin. It depends on how you look at it. If they are not given special treatment people talk. Since they have different needs, they are looked after separately, which does not mean they are being segregated.”
For Priscilla the time spent with these special children is something that makes her brim with happiness and sentiments of fulfilment. She says: “There is a sense of fulfilment in spending time here knowing that you are doing something for someone who needs you so much even if it may be just talking with one such child.”
Dr Viegas leaves a message for all the children living with HIV and also for those who are helping. “There is hope. It is not the end of the world. With financial help, social support and medication, a person can definitely lead a healthy life.”
Learn more about the disease. Learn how it is spread so that misconceptions or fear is dispelled
Raise your voice when you see or hear someone doing or speaking in favour of any stigmatisation
Give your support, financially or by offering services to organisations working with children with HIV