New Delhi: In the midst of the buzz and clamour around HIV/AIDS, one group often goes unattended—children, who suffer because they are either born with the disease or are born into a family afflicted by it. That may be changing now.
As of May 2008, around 10,130 children in India were being treated for HIV/AIDS, far higher than the 1,800 on antiretroviral therapy, or ART, in 2006.
Support group: Children affected by AIDS at WAG Chelsea, New Delhi. Sudhanshu Malhotra / Mint
This boost came after the National AIDS Control Organisation, or Naco, launched the National Paediatric ART Initiative in November 2006. The Union government’s third National AIDS Control Programme, or NACP III, aims to have 40,000 children on ART by 2012.
In a densely populated area of east Delhi, one organization has dedicated itself to providing care and homes to such children. The Women’s Action Group or WAG Chelsea (Children Health Education Ladies Senior citizens Environment Awareness), headed by Doe Nair, is a non-profit funded by Naco, the William J Clinton Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development.
“What everyone has forgotten is that there are children who were either born with HIV, got infected with it or are affected by it,” says Nair. “We have had six cases who got infected in government hospitals during routine immunization. People have forgotten that these children have to live... They have a right to life.”
In her years of work with the HIV/AIDS community, Nair says she has found that children with the disease face a possible loss of identity, self-rejection, malnutrition, loss of shelter, clothing and education. At the centre, a two-storey house, several children sit studying and some others have taken shelter waiting for their parents or guardians to return from work and take them home.
WAG Chelsea, with a 52-member staff, provides shelter to some children and care at home for hundreds of others, which includes training care-givers on how to look after the children. A team of 15 counsellors, outreach workers, teachers and even HIV-positive men and women work to reach out to these children.
The organization is currently looking after 500 children, of which about 100 are HIV-positive and the rest are from families affected by the disease.
For orphans and those shunned by families, WAG Chelsea tries to find foster homes or trace extended families that may be willing to take care of the children. “But we don’t end it there,” says Nair. “We have a follow-up in place and from time to time, we make sure that the kids are being looked after in the homes they have found.”