She made them dump stigma

In a dark, dingy shack in a Chennai slum, a story of hope for the country?s HIV positive community is unfolding, reports GC Shekhar.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 15:04 IST
GC Shekhar

In a dark, dingy shack in a Chennai slum, a story of hope for the country’s HIV positive community is unfolding. You can hear it in the laughter of bright-eyed Subha, a child born with HIV.

Subha was brought to the one-room home of Surya and Gajendran in Thiruvalluvar Nagar, a congested slum near the Broadway Cinema in north Chennai, in June 2003 when she was six months old. Surya had barely enough money to support her family of two boys when she decided to adopt Subha as part of a home care programme by Community Health and Education Society (CHES). But one look at Subha and she knew this was the girl she had always wanted.

Subha with her parents in front of her home in Chennai. (HT photo)

"It did not matter she was HIV positive and that she could have AIDS later. Today no one in my family can even think of being separated from her," says Surya, tears glistening in her eyes.

The aim of the home care programme was to give HIV positive children a chance to grow up with love. “The economic conditions of the foster parents was never a criterion. Only their attachment and concern for the kid was. That is why Subha has been a success story just like the eight other HIV kids who have found a home," says Dr RP Manorama of CHES.

But the bigger fear was how her neighbours would respond. Thiruvalluvar Nagar did not greet Subha with fear, suspicion and stigma. They embraced her. Now, she is the star of the colony.

The miracle was possible thanks to an intensive sensitization programme undertaken by the state AIDS society. "HIV or AIDS is no more a bad word at least in this state. It is seen as a disease that can be combated effectively. This is probably the only state where even second line anti-retro viral drugs are given free of cost to HIV patients," pointed out Dr Sunithi Solomon of the AIDS Prevention and Control Project.

Today, Subha attends play school at a nearby missionary school. "If this barely-literate couple can give her a home, how can we be not give Subha the education she has a right to?" asks Ann Mary, principal of the school.

That’s not all. Two successive tests have showed that Subha had tested negative for HIV. "It means that she only had the maternal antibodies as a child and not the virus itself. It is unlikely she would test positive hereafter. This really has been a learning experience for us," said Dr. Manorama.

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First Published: Dec 01, 2006 01:41 IST