Children are a vulnerable group, especially to HIV/AIDS, where it has a harsh effect of leaving many orphaned and without support to continue.
Only 13 per cent of children know they have AIDS, according to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). Though the free antiretroviral administration for children introduced in 2004 brought in a marked difference in the treatment, the battle this young group is fighting is not over unless more preventive effective measures are taken to ensure transmission of HIV from mother to child is minimal.
P. Manorama, who runs a home for children infected and affected by HIV through the Community Health Education Society (CHES), says though there are fewer new cases emerging now than seen some years ago, it is true that the number of infected children being identified is on the rise.
An area of concern for those working with children and AIDS, she says, is that there is no uniform understanding of who these children are. “The national statistics says they are those between 0 and 15 years. What about children 16 years and above?” she asks.
In Tamil Nadu there are three community care centres supported by the Government. Besides, there are many non-governmental organisations offering financial, social and educational support. South India Positive Network (SIP), Udavum Karangal, WorldVision, Hope Foundation and many individuals either run shelter homes or offer care and counselling. However, there are the problems of inadequate funds, stigma in society and resources that is slowing the cause.
Doctors say once paediatric ARVs were made available, it solved a major problem. With a nutritious diet and counselling, children can now live a long, pretty healthy life.
Senthil Kumar has been running CHILD, a registered home for HIV infected children, for the last four years in Korattur. From housing children, today the centre is a home for infected women too. His biggest expense is paying for the education of school-going children. “The transportation for the children to a school near Chetpet alone comes to Rs. 7,000 a month,” he says.
The Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society, through its Orphans and Vulnerable Children Trust established specifically for the purpose of assisting children infected by HIV/AIDS, is now offering grants to provide for education, nutrition and medical expenses of the children. The first batch of cheques was disbursed recently to children from all over the State.
HIV can hurt an ailing child further when she/he is discriminated by school, neighbourhood or family members. In fact, getting admission is a big task for organisations.
In the last eight years since Priya Dharshini, project coordinator, Hope Foundation, has been working for HIV infected children, the home has shifted from two rented accommodations.
Getting a rented place in the city is most challenging and we have to convince school authorities that other children are not at risk. “We had to fight with government schools to admit children and now there is better acceptance. We first conduct an awareness camp in school for teachers,” she says. Organisations say it gets tougher once they reach adolescence, where they start feeling lonely or when they fall in love and want to marry.
Bringing HIV-infected children to the mainstream, finding a good care giver who can unburden their social, psychological and emotional needs can bring in the much-needed support as the observes yet another World AIDS Day.