People living with HIV flay closure of Community Care Centres

“They care the least for my consent. They come in groups, pounce on me one after the other and abuse my body to the core. My cries of being a HIV positive and plea for safe sex does not move them a bit for they get virtually blinded by their lust,” is how S. Suganthi (name changed despite her not insisting on it), a Female Sex Worker (FSW) describes her customers.

She is one among 6,300 FSWs in the district to have found place in the official records. And she claims to have been resorting to abortion often because many of her customers refusing to use condoms despite her insistence. “Hers is not an isolated case. Rather, it is the sordid state of affair with many FSWs,” says Berlin Jose of RUSS Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for the welfare of such workers here.

He points out that efforts to mark World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1 every year, would be fruitful only if the stakeholders try and find out solutions to the umpteen number of problems involved in preventing, controlling and eradicating the most destructive pandemics in history. According to him, the battle against AIDS can be considered half won only when the social stigma attached to it gets obliterated.

Recalling her experiences, R. Rajathi (name changed), a person living with HIV, says she came to know of the syndrome for the first time only after her seven-year-old son was diagnosed of it in the year 2000. “My husband, a lorry driver, was also found to be HIV positive. But he shifted the blame on me and disowned my child and me. To top it all, a doctor who treated me made lewd comments, assassinating my character. Unable to bear the humiliation, I decided to commit suicide along with my child. It was then that another doctor at the Community Care Centre (CCC), then functioning at the Family Planning Association of India office at Ellis Nagar, gave the me the confidence that I can still fight it out in the society. Within a few years, my son lost immunity and died. But I am continuing to breathe owing to the support I received at the CCC,” she says.

However, ironically, the CCC was closed down early this year owing to non-receipt of funds from National Aids Control Organisation. The NACO had discontinued provision of funds for CCCs (which were providing counselling, treatment, referral and outreach services) across the country despite continuing to describe them as institutions playing “a critical role in providing treatment, care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS” on its website.

M. Kalirajan, District Programme Manager, Madurai District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit, says the CCCs across the country were closed down because they were not functioning properly. Instead, it was decided to treat people living with HIV/AIDS at the Government Hospitals itself.

Not in favour of buying the argument, C. Savithri (name changed), widow of a lorry driver, and her college-going daughter, both living with HIV for long, say NACO should have attempted to set things right in CCCs rather than closing them down. “Getting treatment as in-patients at the Government Hospitals is next to impossible for people like us. We definitely need a special place like CCCs,” Ms. Savithri says.

N. Balakumar, who lost his first wife and child to AIDS and married a widow living with HIV couple of years ago, says much needs to be done to protect children living with HIV. There were about 1,605 Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) registered in the district. Of them only 106 were being given monetary assistance ranging between Rs. 3,000 and 10,000 a year.

C. Glory Deborah, engaged in rehabilitation of people with HIV/AIDS, says identifying those living with HIV and convincing them to continue treatment is a big challenge. She says fear of discrimination was a major deterrent. The situation will improve only if people become broadminded such as Madurai-based event manager S. Ilaya Raja who celebrated his son’s first birthday with 20 children living with HIV.

“When I hosted a buffet dinner for these children in a city restaurant, three of my friends got inspired and expressed their desire to follow suit. This is the kind of positive vibes that we should be creating in the society for the sake of these children who are living with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Not knowing when they will breathe their last,” Mr. Raja says.

More In: Madurai