The Indian government’s efforts in fighting HIV/AIDS that so far focused on high-risk sections of the population are now turning to the most vulnerable: children.
The ministries of health and family welfare, and of women and child development, jointly released the first policy framework for children infected and affected by the epidemic.
The policy proposes to address the needs of children and integrate services within existing development and poverty reduction programmes. The target population are children under the age of 18 who are HIV-positive, and also those whose parents are HIV-positive or have died of AIDS.
This policy, if implemented effectively, may improve the lives of children such as 13-year-old Sudha, whose last name was withheld by the non-profit group that recounted her story. After caring for a mother dying of AIDS, Sudha and her two brothers now live on their own—orphaned by AIDS.
She works at a cotton mill, where she earns Rs40 after an eight-hour day, to make sure her brothers—one is HIV-positive—stay in school.
The policy will also address the needs of adolescents who are at a heightened risk because they live in communities vulnerable to HIV or are indulging in high-risk behaviour, such as drug abuse or sexual intercourse.
“As this infection affects the young adults in their productive age group, their premature death or incapacity has resulted in adversity for children. Surveys show how the children are being withdrawn from schools and made to join the workforce to earn income for family sustenance,” said health minister Anbumani Ramadoss. “The policy framework launched today is one attempt in this direction as it seeks to provide much needed medical, social and psychological support to affected children.”
The four key strategies to achieve the goals of the policy are “primary prevention among adolescents, prevention of parent to child transmission, paediatric AIDS treatment, protection and care of children and families affected by AIDS.”
India is estimated to have the third highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world. Revised figures estimate 2-3.1 million Indians live with HIV. The government of India estimates 66,000 children below the age of 15 years are infected with HIV in India.
Non-profit organizations working with children affected by HIV/AIDS lauded the new policy. “This shift in focus to include children is encouraging,” said Jayakumar Christian, the national director of World Vision India, a Christian relief and development organization. “However, the government will have to involve civil society to ensure that plan is implemented even at the grass-roots level. The government also has to guarantee that someone is accountable for the implementation of this policy at that level.”