For these HIV kids, life is all questions, no answers (Nov 14 is Children’s Day)

By Anjali Ojha, IANS
Saturday, November 13, 2010

NEW DELHI - They are chirpy, confident and full of the energy - like all children are - but for one difference. They are HIV-positive, and some are even afflicted with AIDS.

“My father died in 2005, I was very young,” says David Ramso, a 10-year old boy from Manipur.

“My mother told me that he died of some illness. When I grew up, I found out that he died of AIDS. My mother is also suffering from AIDS,” his voice starts breaking, and his eyes are brimming with tears.

“I don’t know what will happen to us when she dies,” he says, staring vacantly.

Ramso is one of the many children supported by Chaha, a programme started by the international non-governmental organisation HIV/AIDS Alliance.

“After Chaha supported us, I was able to go to school regularly. Earlier, I did not pass in many subjects, but now I get good marks,” he says. But his childhood experiences have matured him beyond his years.

“I wonder what will happen to us if this programme ends,” he says.

His fears are echoed by his friends at the centre. Even as the country celebrates Children’s Day Nov 14, Chaha is set to shut down March next year, owing to lack of funds.

“We have reached nearly 60,000 children in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur. There are so many more children who have to be reached, but the programme is set for a closure,” says Sonal Mehta, the programme director.

An interactive session organized by Chaha Friday saw representatives from National AIDS Control Society (NACO), National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and UNICEF agreeing on the needs for a more comprehensive policy to protect the children - the worst sufferers of both the disease and the stigma.

“We did not give them a choice while bringing them to the world. At least we should have the decency to allow them to live,” says Bollywood director Nagesh Kukunoor, who attended the meet.

“A lot of programmes depend on international funding. But with our own economy doing so well, why do we need money from abroad,” he asks, saying that his next film will be on the topic of child trafficking.

For the children, however, these discussions on policy and financing make no sense. What matters is the stark reality of their existence.

“I study in class 10th,” says Ranjit Rao Sahib Patil from Maharashtra. “I was three years old when my father died. I was in 3rd standard when I came to know that I was HIV-positive. Chaha people came to my house, and gave me medicines,” he says.

“I am shorter than my classmates. I wish they also gave some medicine for growing tall,” he smiles.

As many as 3.8 percent of Indian children below 15 years are HIV-positive. That translates to over 70,000 kids.

More than 21,000 of them are infected through their parents. According to NACO estimates, 33,000 newborns contract HIV every year from their mothers. Of this, over 50 percent die within two years of birth.

The children at Chaha may not be aware of these statistics. But they, more than anyone among us, know the real costs of suffering from HIV.

Filed under: HIV, Medicine

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