With no vaccination yet, HIV orphans need protection as they fight stigma and infections
KRISH was only eight when he found out that he was born with HIV. He later learnt that there was no cure for the condition. The stigma attached to children with HIV prevented Krish from disclosing it to anyone and he kept it to himself for over 20 years. While growing up years and into early adulthood, he felt very isolated and went through depression. Only his determination to not give up pulled him through.
Now a successful engineer, Krish said: “We are not dirty. We didn’t do anything wrong. We just need love, care, equality and some support so that we can keep up with ourselves. I am living a completely normal life with no diseases other than this infection.”
Krish is a survivor and he was fortunate to make it through because of the support system he had, his courage, and determination.
The plight of children with HIV
According to a UNICEF 2017 report, India has an estimated 120,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 0-19 living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the highest in South Asia. HIV-positive children face discrimination and endure stigmatization throughout their lives for no fault of their own.
Most often the children get the infection from their HIV-infected mothers while still in the womb. In India, as soon as these children fall ill and test positive, the majority of them are thrown out of homes by their own family members who fear both the infection and social stigma. The emotional and mental stress that children living with HIV go through can cause major psychological problems. They are among the most vulnerable group of abandoned children.
Once on the streets, the orphaned children are exploited and abused. They have little means for survival and absolutely no access to healthcare. HIV attacks their body’s immune system and weakens it making them very susceptible to any passing illness, which can develop into AIDS. There is still no vaccine against HIV and more than 32 million people across the world have died of AIDS-related illnesses since it reared it ugly head in the 1980s.
The children are also extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 because HIV has weakened their immune systems and they are at high risk of developing other life-threatening diseases. The good news is that with care and lifesaving treatment like antiretroviral therapy (ART), children with HIV can lead normal lives.
Guardians of the abandoned orphans
Freedom Foundation, started by Dr. Ashok Rau, is a care centre and home for orphan children with HIV and AIDS. Presently, it looks after 68 children in its Bangalore facilities who were abandoned and had nowhere else to go.
Freedom Foundation strives to provide the best education, special medical care and support which costs around ₹60 lakh each year. Dr. Rau began this initiative with the thought that these children were like his own and that they too must have the best that is available.
The care home is located in a busy neighbourhood so children can re-integrate into society. They follow a group foster care model for holistic care and protection. The programme is supported by in-house counsellors, coordinators and other team members. Every child at the care centre is enrolled in an English-medium curriculum. They also learn yoga and computer skills, to improve their overall development.
Earlier, the Foundation had regular donors but now it is urgently in need of funds. The job losses and other financial hardships faced by donors due to the pandemic have led to a dip in donations. With the loss of their large and loyal group of donors, there is a dearth of resources. The foundation is struggling to continue its work of caring and providing for the orphaned children with HIV.
Let them not be abandoned again
Orphaned children with HIV are one of the worst affected in this pandemic. Already immunocompromised and at a higher risk of contracting the virus, the children need additional care and protection, socio-emotional support and disease management.
Children living with HIV or AIDS have greater emotional needs and require a lot of support to come to terms with their condition. They need caregivers who understand the mental and emotional effects especially when it comes to the treatment. The children and adolescents with the infection have to face several complex behavioural and mental health challenges already.
Let these kids not lose their safe space. Help us reach the target amount so the children can continue to receive the nourishment, care and medical support they require. Your contribution will ensure these kids have a fair chance to survive. Together we can help them have a normal childhood and a chance at life. We urge you to donate now.
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.