Indian Church giving new life to children with HIV

The Catholic Health Association of India is the largest health NGO in the country. Established 76 years ago, it has over 76,000 members, including a thousand nuns who are doctors. About 60,000 children are born each year from HIV-positive mothers. The association’s goal is to give these young lives a dignified future.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vikas (not his real name), eight years old, was a toddler when he and his sister lost their parents to HIV-AIDS.

For a few years, they lived with an uncle, who forced the boy to work in a hotel. Their salvation came when they met Santosh Ram, a distant relative, who decides to adopt them and give them the warmth of a family.

Thanks to the support of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Hazaribag, Jharkhand, Vikas is now going to school and is being treated for HIV/AIDS. He has good grades and says «I’m happy. My sister wants to be a teacher.»

Vikas is one of 1,032 children living with HIV/AIDS assisted by the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), India’s largest health NGO, led by Fr Mathew Abraham, a doctor who embraced the priesthood after his studies.

Founded in 1943, the association currently has more than 76,000 members, three universities, five colleges for health professions. More than a thousand members are nuns who are doctors, working mainly in rural areas. In Jharkhand, some of them belong to the Sisters of the Holy Cross.

In 2018 CHAI launched its first project for HIV-positive children. Out of 1,032 children under treatment, 437 receive institution-based care whilst 595 get home-based care.

The project is in place in nine member institutes in five states of India, and the association is backed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

The project, which provides for medical-social, nutritional and emotional support to children both in an institutional setting and through home-based care, also facilitates linkages with social security schemes and government health insurance schemes to support the children.

According to UNICEF India, some 220,000 children are infected with HIV/AIDS in India, 33 per cent of them die within the first 12 months.

Every year 55,000 to 60,000 children are born to mothers who are HIV positive. More than 30 per cent are likely to be infected. For those who survive, living with the disease brings a great deal of social stigma and discrimination.

CHAI seeks to develop a sustainable model for taking care of these children and wants to expand the coverage of children in the years to come, Fr Abraham noted.

Children are the future of the country. Every child deserves the right to live with dignity and social support. Same is the case with children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.

(Photo credit: Catholic Health Association of India Facebook page)

CHAI is member of FIAMC