Andhra Pradesh has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV in India. One of the key reasons for this is the National Highway which runs through the state along which are hundreds of roadside brothels, dhaba. Truck drivers are on the road for months at a time and visit the brothels as a matter of course. There is a high percentage rate of infection among the sex workers who are often paid extra not to use condoms.
Inevitably, the truck drivers become infected and in due course return to their villages, peppered off the national highway and infect their wives. Over time the drivers develop Aids and many have died before being diagnosed or too late for ARV drugs to be effective. Their widows and their children are left destitute and are often forced out of their husband’s village. They are forced to live in secrecy with the infection out of fear – the stigma is a real danger for them – as a result statistics are hard to gather.
In every home we run there are a number of children who have been orphaned by HIV. Some have lost both parents, some still have a mother struggling in secrecy to make ends meet. Sadly, there are times when we take in an elder sibling as the mother simply cannot cope with more than one or two children. (They often have up to four).
The government provide ARV (Anti Retro Viral) drugs for those that need it – but there are so many other problems that attend HIV, those suffering with the virus face endless struggles. Secondary infections are expensive to treat – additional nutrition is required (up to 10% more nutrition is needed in the diet just to combat the infection in the body), and finding employers who are sympathetic to sickness and time off for illness are hard to find. Then there is the problem with the children. Schools often reject infected children – and will not let them attend class if they have the slightest problem with their health out of fear for the other children – whereas in truth the infected children are often more at risk from the healthy children who carry all sorts of infections on them without becoming sick because they have healthy immunity systems.
Most of the problems are fuelled by ignorance and there is little in terms of effective advocacy, That which does exist is often either badly communicated or not properly understood – and so the fear remains and stigma continues.