Goa State NGO forum on HIV/AIDS including eight NGO’s – Positive People, Human Touch, World Vision India, Caritas Goa, Asro, Jeevan Jyoti (Presentation Society), Voluntary Health Association of Goa (VHAG) and Lifeline Foundation, as a joint initiative organised a day-long event titled ‘Kallzantlean Ulo’, a conversation with children living with HIV on Wednesday at Sanskruti Bhavan, Patto. The programme was attended by 70 children living and affected by HIV who addressed their issues and concerns to project director, Goa State AIDS Control Society and deputy director, Public Health, Directorate of Health Services, Jose D’sa and Goa health minister, Francis D’Souza.
Speaking at the event, CEO, Human Touch, Peter Borges said that with advancement in medicine and awareness the number of new HIV cases has reduced but the number of deaths related to HIV is still continual. “Children who were born with HIV are living a normal lifespan with advanced treatment. We have children born with HIV are turning into adolescents,” he said.
The event was held to give due attention to the plight of children living with HIV, as the organizers pointed out that not much attention is paid to the children apart from them availing the Social Security Scheme (DSS). The forum requested the state government to make some provisions. “In Goa the state did not have a statistics on the number of people living with HIV, the NGO’s in the forum shared data and came up with a figure of 256 children although it is not the official figure,” said Borges.
Issues related to children living with HIV were discussed. “The Government of India provides free ART treatment to people living with HIV, some children miss on taking the treatment when no one monitors them,” said Borges. He further added that stigma is one reason why children living with HIV don’t want to avail treatment, where they have to collect their medicine from the hospitals. “Fears of being identified in hospitals are reasons why children don’t want to avail treatment,” said Borges. He also pointed that some children don’t collect their medications in fear of missing out on schools hence the forum has requested the health authorities to allow the children to collect their medicines after school hours.
He further spoke about the viral load test wherein a person living with HIV can find out the amount of HIV in their blood to test if the treatment is working on the particular person. “The viral load test costs nearly Rs4000 to Rs5000 in private hospitals, we have requested the government to make it free,” said Borges.
The forum also discussed issues of birth registration and social security issues, “we have requested the government to help in the birth registration of the orphaned HIV children and also in availing the DSS schemes for the time when the child turns 18 to use it for their education”.
Sexual and reproductive health was another focus, where the forum would like to help adolescents with counseling. “Like any of us they would like to be in a relationship and besides living with HIV they should be made aware of their status as not everyone knows that they have the virus, and also counsel them about practicing safe physical relationships,” said Borges.
Stigma related to HIV is still prevalent; this was evident as Borges pointed out that two years back children were expelled from a school, “The society must understand that studying with them in school setting or college setting is not an issue; there is a need to accept children born with HIV,” said Borges adding that any incident related to stigma and discrimination must be reported to the special committee.
NGOs unite to fight HIV/AIDS