Dec 1 2008

World AIDS Day: The stigma of AIDS in India

AIDS is still a taboo topic in India. But ignoring the problem is only making the situation worse.World AIDS Day logo

It is estimated that 2.4 million people in India are currently living with HIV. That means that India ranks 3rd in the world in terms of the number of people†with HIV,†after South Africa and Nigeria.

Andhra Pradesh, a state in the southeast of India, has the highest prevalence of HIV in the country.†Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh, and CFCAís project in Hyderabad is partnering with local non-profit organizations and community-based organizations that meet the needs of AIDS-affected children.

AIDS-affected children are either HIV positive,†or†their parents are. The children of HIV-postive†parents may or may not be infected. But either way, they face the stigma of AIDS in a country that doesnít want to face this growing problem.

People living with HIV are stigmatized and sometimes rejected by their communities, families and even spouses. A 2006 study commissioned by the National AIDS Control Organisation found that 25 percent†of people living with HIV in India have been refused medical treatment on the basis of their HIV status.†Human Rights Watch has carefully documented the treatment of children affected by HIV/AIDS, and they found routine stigmatization and abuse of these children.

ìIn some families, the person who is HIV positive†wonít even tell their spouse or their in-laws for fear,î says Sukshmana Thakur, the CFCA Hyderabad social worker who works with AIDS-affected children. ìThe AIDS-affected children donít tell their friends or teachers. The headmaster will know, but it is very confidential. The children are afraid that no one will play with them if they know the truth.î

Even organizations serving HIV-positive†families are stigmatized. An orphanage serving AIDS orphans in Hyderabad has been forced to move location seven times because landlords keep evicting them once they find out that the children come from HIV-positive†families.

Some HIV-positive†parents are fired when their HIV status is disclosed or when they miss work because of illnesses caused by opportunistic infections. These families are poor to begin with, and losing a job makes their situation even more desperate.

CFCA sponsorship is providing hope to some AIDS-affected children in Andhra Pradesh. AIDS-affected children who are sponsored are able to go to school and have a nutritious diet even when their parents may be too sick to work. CFCA helps these children with clothing and medicines also, if they need them. ìSome of the AIDS-affected sponsored children have parents who are beggars,î says Thakur, ìbut the children are able to go to school anyway because of sponsorship.î

The CFCA Hyderabad project is currently expanding its work with AIDS-affected children, and 162 more AIDS-affected children from the area will be available for sponsorship soon.

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