Bency (15), one of the HIV-infected siblings victimised by society a decade ago passed away at the Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Doctors who attended on her said measles was the immediate cause for her death. She was admitted to the hospital on Monday. The doctors said Bency had the HIV encephalitis syndrome.

The funeral rites will be held at a date to be declared later since the arrival of her maternal uncle is awaited. Together with her HIV-infected brother Benson (13), she was under the care of their blind grandmother at Kaithakuzhy near here. The funeral will be held under the supervision of the Kerala State AIDS Control Society.

The body was brought to Kollam later in the eveningto be placed at the mortuary. A spokesman for the AIDS Control Society said a decision on how to handle the dead body before the funeral would be taken by the Society on Thursday. There is no harm in conducting the funeral as per Christian rites, the spokesman has said.

Bency and Benson are children of AIDS-infected parents. Their father C.K. Chandy died in 1997 and their mother, Princy, in 2000. At the time Bency was 5 years old and Benson, 3. They then came under the care of their maternal grandparents. Their grandfather Geevarghese passed away in 2006.

Victims of stigma

The siblings were one of the best publicised cases of HIV-positive children being denied access to school. The issue had attracted the attention of even the international media. Attempts by the grandparents to get them admitted in several schools were denied mainly because parents of other students threatened to withdraw their children from the schools if the siblings were allowed to study there.

This compelled Geevarghese to undertake a fast in Thiruvananthapuram in 2003, which in turn resulted in the then Chief Minister A.K. Antony, calling a high-level meeting to solve the issue. Initially, a private tutor was appointed at their home and exams were also written separately.

Later, as the constant campaign on AIDS awareness began producing results, the siblings were given admission to one of the schools that earlier denied them admission. Bency and Benson were presently studying at the Adichanalur Panchayat High School with other children. Bency was in Class 9 and had been promoted to Class 10.

In September 2003, during an interaction with the siblings in Thiruvananthapuram, the then Union Minster for Health and Family Welfare, Sushma Swaraj, hugged them in public in an attempt to dispel myths and the stigma attached to the condition. On that occasion, Ms. Swaraj announced the public-sector Hindustan Latex would meet the educational expenses of the siblings for five years. Benson and Bency also had a meeting with former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Keywords: BencybensonHIV victimsAIDS