Indian Church cares for HIV/AIDS children

By Matters India Reporter

Secunderabad, May 2, 2019: Vikas (name changed), 8, and his younger sister faced their first ordeal of life when they lost both their parents, who were HIV positive.

The parents were daily laborer struggling to eke a livelihood in Mumbai, despite being positive. After their death, the two children came under the custody of their uncle, who made Vikas to work as a laborer. This damaged their childhood and they lost interest in studies. Added to this were unfavorable influences of uncle and aunt that brought them huge mental turmoil.

The first respite came when a distant relative, Santosh Ram, encountered Vikas working in a hotel. He adopted both the children and with the help of Holy Cross Sisters, Hazaribag, in Jharkhand state, admitted them in school.

The animators of the Holy Cross intervene in the life of children like Vikas. They counsel them, support their health care needs, provide education, and extended nutritional support, during various home visits. This resulted into fostering hope and positive attitude of Vikas.

Vikas said he has proved meritorious in school. “Today I am happy with my sister who wants to become a teacher, he said and thanked support by the Holy Cross nuns and his relative Ram for making him and his sister happy.

The Holy Cross project is implemented by the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) to help poor orphans and poor children cared by extended families.

“Vikas`s example motivates us to support children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS,” says CHAI director general Redemptorist Father Mathew Abraham, a physician-turned-Catholic priest.

CHAI, promoted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, cares for children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS since 2018.

“I thank our member institutions who support us for understanding the cause and rendering selfless services to bring the affected and infected children into the mainstream of life,” the priest told Matters India.

Every year 55,000 to 60,000 children are born to mothers who are HIV positive in the country. More than 30 percent of these children are likely to be infected themselves.

According to UNICEF India, India has 220,000 children infected by HIV/AIDS, 33 percent of them die within the first 12 months. For young children to survive early detection, nutritional supplements and medical treatment especially antiretroviral therapy are essential.

Children living with the disease experience a great deal of social stigma and discrimination.

CHAI, with the support of its funding agencies such as Misereor, Germany, has initiated a healthcare program in 2018, aiming at empowering children infected and affected by AIDS, Father Abraham said.

The project works with both children affected by HIV/AIDS and children who are infected. The project provides for medical-social, nutritional and emotional support to children both on an institutional basis and through home-based care.

The project also facilitates linkages with social security schemes and government health insurance schemes to support the children. The children are provided peer based training on essential life skills and pro-social behaviors, the priest noted.

The project is implemented through nine member institutes across five states of India. Through the initiative in one year, CHAI provided health, educational and nutritional support to 1,032 children (509 children infected by HIV/AIDS and 523 children affected by HIV/AIDS).

Among the 1,032 children, 437 children were provided institution-based care and 595 children home based care.

The initiative linked 497 infected children to required treatment. More than 121 children were linked with social security schemes and 484 children were linked with educational schemes.

More than 33 peer leaders and six Councillors were provided master training for life skill education. They were equipped with tablets with life skill modules and digital education media for further training. 89 local sponsors came forward to support the children.

CHAI aspires to develop a sustainable model for taking care of these children and attempt to expand the coverage of children in the years to come, said Father Abraham.

Children are the future of the country. Every child deserves the right to live with dignity and social support. Same is the case with children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.

CHAI is the largest non-governmental health organization in India and it is committed, according to its motto, to bringing “good health for all.”

Its network includes 76,000 healthcare professionals, three universities, five doctors’ colleges, 3,500 institutions and more than 1,000 nuns who are doctors, mostly engaged in rural areas.

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