HIV/AIDS orphans rising in Nagaland

Imkong Walling
Dimapur | May 8

Every year, the World AIDS Orphans Day is celebrated on May 7. FXB international, a non-profit organisation, launched a movement in the year 2002 to bring to the fore the plight of children worldwide, affected and orphaned by the virus. Since then the day is being observed to mobilise attention of the world community. FXB is an NGO dedicated to combating poverty and AIDS.

The focus this year was on establishing programmes and urgent measures to support AIDS orphans and those children made vulnerable by the virus. It is estimated that more than 25 million children around the world have lost one or both parents to the virus, with millions more unaccounted. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly half of this figure. These children face not only virus and stigmatisation but are also vulnerable to all forms of exploitation.

In addition to the trauma of losing a parent, these children are less likely to receive healthcare, education and face increased chances of HIV infection. Impoverished and often without support and protection, these children, consequently, often fall prey to many forms of exploitation like forced labour, prostitution and child soldiering. Experts believe that the numbers will still increase. Thus, the urgent need of the hour is to direct a considerable portion of HIV/AIDS funding towards rehabilitation of children affected and orphaned by the virus.

FXB India Suraksha, the Indian arm of FXB International, also observes the occasion. They use “communication as a core strategy in mobilising children, youth, civil society members and prominent dignitaries from different walks of life to observe the day”. The government of Nagaland has also declared May 7 as AIDS Orphans Day which has been made possible by the initiative of FXB Suraksha India, Nagaland branch.

In Nagaland there are also cases of many such affected children suffering quietly. Jacob (name changed) is a loving child of about three and half years. He has been living in a care home for the last one year as an outcome of his biological parents falling victim to the deadly HIV/AIDS. After his parents’ demise, he was at first taken care of by his grandmother. Owing to the failing health of his grandmother, his relatives were compelled to refer him to a care home through help from a local NGO. Today as result of proper medical attention he is a healthy boy but living as a ‘forgotten child’ due to his status of being HIV+. Fortunately, a concerned NGO working in the field has taken him under their wings. Sadly, the Programme Manager of the NGO under whose care Jacob is living disclosed that it has been 5 long months since they have had any contact from his relatives. It was learned that since January of this year none of his relatives have come to visit him.

Jacob is one among hundreds of such affected children who has been living beneath the shadows fearing stigma from the society. A poignant revelation also came to light about three affected children who were denied admission to a school because of their “positive” status. A worker of the NGO, under whose care Jacob is staying, revealed to The Morung Express that three children from their care home were shunned from receiving the “fundamental right” of any human being from a school in Dimapur owing to their status. Such is the attitude of the society towards people with the virus.

Interacting with people from certain local NGOs working in the field, it was learned that as of now no extensive study has been undertaken to find out the actual figures of the number of children affected with the virus in the State. They were of the opinion that the society, particularly educational institutions, should be “sensitised” on the issue regarding children. They were quite vocal in their views that affected children should attend formal schools just like every other child.

Besides, one dismal observation has been that “in the provision of health care and deciding research agendas, children have been sidelined in the fight against HIV/AIDS”. According to latest figures from the ART (Anti Retroviral Therapy) Centre at District Hospital (DH), Dimapur, about 136 children (18 months to 15 years) have been tested positive between the periods March 2006-May 2009 in the district alone. Out of the 157 people who were tested positive in the months of April and May, 2009, 11 were children, it was also disclosed. UNAIDS figures show that at the end of 2007 nearly 2 million children were living with HIV worldwide, two-thirds in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Also in the case of Nagaland it is believed that the numbers would be alarmingly high.

One positive result, despite the high rate of detection of HIV/AIDS cases in the state, is the number of people coming forward, nowadays, to get tested unlike a few years back. According to the Medical Officer (MO) of ART Centre, DH, Dimapur during the early stages of the inception of the Centre, people hardly came forward to get tested but today, the MO said, a healthy number of people are coming forward, a positive sign that people are gradually opening up to the threat of the virus.