HOSUR: People in the backward Jawalagiri panchayat in Krishnagiri, a nondescript rural area that seldom comes to the attention of the outside world, do not know much about AIDS or HIV though they are terrified of it. For, four persons have lost their battle to the deadly virus in as many months, villagers told Express. Add to that the previous HIV/AIDS toll in the village and its neighbourhood in Denkanikottai taluk in the last decade, and the number hovers around a dozen.
Incidentally, the village in Thally block of Denkanikottai taluk, about 90 km from the district headquarters, was adopted by the local Member of Parliament to develop it as a model village last year.
One of the villagers who died in recent months had the infection for about eight years, but did not reveal it to anyone till recently. “We came to know about it only about three months before his death. Now after his death, we are taking care of his family, including the children,” a relative told Express. In another case, both father and mother died after developing complications due to the condition, and their child is now with an aged relative.
In this district, most cases are reported from areas from where people, mostly uneducated and many a time illiterate, travel to other parts of the State and outside for earning a living as either migrant labourers or on business. For instance, Uthangarai and Bargur blocks are on top of the list when it comes to the number of reported cases of HIV. At Jawalagiri panchayat that comprises 19 villages with a population of about 5,000, around 10 people are living with AIDS, said local sources.
They fumed that there were no employment opportunities in the village and the neighbourhood, which is forcing them to look for options outside, from where they contracted the virus.
Kumar, president of Krishnagiri Living with HIV and AIDS Welfare Society, claimed seven persons died in November, 2014, due to this, alleging that the officials involved were under-reporting the number of cases. “In the district, over 8,500 people were identified as HIV-positive since 2005. Of this, about 3,500 - including 365 children and 1,800 women - are enrolled in the association,” he said.
In all, around 7,000 people are taking treatment, of whom, about 4,500 are taking Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) in Krishnagiri and Hosur, he added.
When contacted, Vijaya Kumar, counsellor at the Integrated Counselling and Training Centre (ICTC), Thally, said only seven cases were identified in Jawalagiri panchayat during 2006-2015. Of these, five died.
In Jawalagiri, one person died about four months ago due to complications arising from HIV, and another person due to tuberculosis, he claimed. However, when told that Express has copies of the second person’s test and treatment reports revealing that he had AIDS, the official said he was unaware of it.
District Aids Prevention and Control Unit (DAPCU) supervisor Arul echoed Vijaya Kumar; when told about the reports in Express’ possession, he expressed shock. Even Deputy Director of Health Services (DDHS) Dr Devaparthasarathy was not aware of the details, as he had joined only recently.
The lack of awareness about AIDS intensifies the social stigma against those living with HIV, said activists. Speaking to Express, one of the women who was found to be HIV-positive - and who lost her spouse to it - broke down while explaining the situation. “If I sit somewhere in a public place, no one will sit there fearing that they too might get infected. No one sits near me while having food. I am unable to find a job,” she said.