Leading the Charge on AIDS
CHENNAI: How did it all start?
In 2003, I found an orphaned kid whose parents died because of AIDS. And I knew that there was this entire section of people who needed special care.
Have any been reunited with their families?
We raise them, try to counsel their families and have successfully reunited 58 of them with their families.
And the rest?
We take care of them like our own kids, try to get a job for the boys when they become 18 and even get the girls married. We have sent multiple pleas for adoption. But no one has come forward to adopt a child of HIV positive parents.
Is it the stigma?
Yes, but it has reduced to a large extent these days.
Then and Now
Things were very difficult back in 1986. My friends and colleagues would ask me why I had chosen to enter such a ‘dirty field’ as AIDS always meant sex and prostitution. Fortunately, I worked at a government hospital so treatment despite the stigma could not be refused, and we were allowed to keep the patients in a small cordoned off area underneath a staircase. I remember the Health Secretary at the time was very supportive - so I was given a little money to brighten up the space with some curtains and a TV.
Even the doctors then, save for a few wanted nothing to do with this new disease. They would ask to use my stethescope instead of their own for fear of getting the infection. But today, awareness is widespread. Patients that I diagnosed back in the 90s are still alive and well. Today, you can get the medicines locally and it takes a single tablet before bed. I’d say AIDS is easier to treat than diabetes!
How does it feel to have lived with HIV for so many years?
I am not fearful of what will happen to my life now. It has been about 23 years since I was diagnosed, and today I am the role model for many of my fellow men. I have achieved lots of things and contributed a lot to this community.
Treatment has come a long way
We may be living in the 21st century, with the promise of advanced health care and treatment, along with social support. But this is only for a select few. A lot more needs to be done when it comes to addressing the issues of young adults who have tested HIV positive in this day and age.
Adolescents will be important targets then?
Yes. This section should be given counseling and be educated on sexual and reproductive health and rights as sex education.