Rohan, 23, remembers staring at his HIV positive blood reports in shock. “I was 12-year-old then. I felt ashamed and thought I had done something wrong. I was convinced I had only two to three months to live.”
He now laughs at his ignorance and confusion. “Ten years have passed now. I am still waiting to die,” he joked. Rohan is the first generation of adolescents in the city to acquire the HIV virus at birth. Disclosure of HIV positive status, mostly around the age of 15, is known to be the most painful period of an HIV positive adolescent’s life.
Most paediatric departments in hospitals treat HIV positive children till the age of 15 before sending them to the adult ART centre as these centres do not have facilities to counsel children. A paediatrician is generally allowed to treat a child only till the age of 12. “We are more cautious about children who are educated and net-savvy. We do not want them to know about HIV from the Internet,” said Dr Mamata Manglani, head of Centre of Excellence, Pediatric ART unit, Sion hospital.
“The doctors told me about my HIV status two years ago. I am still petrified of people in my locality knowing my status,” said Kartik, 16, a Class 10 student.
“When we disclose their HIV positive status, children sometimes ask—how long will I live. We tell them they will have a long life if they take their medication regularly and eat well,” said Dipali Kulkarni, counsellor at pediatric HIV ward at Sion hospital.
“Some days back, a 21-year-old boy came weeping to my centre. He was in love with a girl from his college but couldn’t reveal his HIV status,” said Niteish Thapliyal, project co-ordinator, Udaan Ghar trust at Ghatkopar.
Meanwhile, Rohan, now an HIV activist, also wants to get married to his girlfriend (HIV negative) who has accepted him. “I would like the government to support people like me and get us jobs,” he said.