D. Jyothi, 35, lost her husband to AIDS two years ago. Soon after, she and her 12-year-old daughter Swathi tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Her son Mahesh, 16, is negative.
Uneducated and unskilled, Jyothi started working as a daily labourer in her village Marpally, 80 km west of Hyderabad. She was soon forced to stop because the virus made her too weak. Facts and figures
With barely any money to eat, her children stopped going to the government-run school in the neighbouring village of Morangapally.
Their staying away from school prompted a representative from a local non-government organisation to come knocking at her home in her village in the Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh.
“The family was destitute and desperate. Apart from a small one-time micro loan of Rs 2,000 to help her set up a tailoring shop, we helped the family to take advantage of existing government schemes,” said Parasa Jayaram, project coordinator, Chaha programme, which provides care and support to children and families affected by HIV in five districts in Andhra Pradesh.
The Indira Awaas Yojana, the government scheme that provides financial assistance to construct houses, helped Jyothi build a home. She used the one-time micro loan to start a small tailoring and kirana (pop and mom store) shop from her home, which helps her earn Rs 3,000 a month. She also now gets Rs 200 a month as widow’s pension from the government.
“She’s now independent and the only assistance we continue to provide her is nutritional support to Swathi in the form of daily milk, egg and local vegetables, and educational support to her son in the form of textbooks and uniform,” said Jayaram.
The Chaha Programme is funded by Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. India is the second-highest recipient of grants for HIV, with $272 million being disbursed as grants till September 1, 2009.
Of the 2.31 million people living with HIV and AIDS in India, 3.5 per cent are children, estimates the National AIDS Control Organisation.
India was among the first countries in the world to roll out paediatric doses of antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV under the government programme last year. Within one year, 16,500 children under 15 years are being given the paediatric doses.
In Ranga Reddy district alone, Chaha is reaching 492 children from 235 homes, of which 87 are headed by women. In Andhra Pradesh, 8,865 children have benefited from similar care and support services.
“Children are the hidden face of the epidemic and we focus not only those who are infected by HIV themselves but those whose families have been affected by it so that they get an equal chance in society,” said Nalin Mehta, spokesperson, The Global Fund, Geneva.
Since tapping government programmes takes time, Chaha begins by intervening at the community level to help the HIV-infected and affected earn a living.
One such case is Kistaiah, 44, who washed clothes for a living in Medikonda village (in Ranga Reddy district) till he was diagnosed with HIV in September last year. His wife, Laxmamma, 40, also tested positive, and almost immediately the family’s nightmare began.
“The village sarpanch (headman) came home to ask about my husband’s health, so I showed him the test results. He told everyone we had AIDS and people stopped giving us clothes to wash,” said Laxmamma.
With no source of income, their children – Anitha, 8, and Narsimulu, 12 – dropped out of school. Once again, Chaha volunteers tracked the school dropouts and had several meetings with the villagers to sensitise them to HIV. “I have work now and I have also applied to the Indira Awaas Yojna for a home grant and to the Antyodaya Scheme for food at subsidised rates,” said Kistaiah.
“The Global Fund was created to save lives. It provides not just the resources for treatment but also for the support and services. Globally, for instance, its resources provide medical services, education and community care for 3.7 million orphans,” said Mehta.