Times of India
19 August 2010
By Kalyani Sardesai
This is about the triumph of human spirit and doggedness, and about how a community can come together to dispel HIV–related misconceptions. So, even though it took her some time, this 28–year–old woman, who is HIV positive as is her six–year–old daughter, managed to convince the villagers of Longe, Kolhapur, that neither she nor her daughter are a threat to society. This August, the Longe gram panchayat "respectfully requested her to return as an anganwadi worker and allowed her daughter to attend the village school." The woman told TOI, "I am relieved that I can live with dignity. This is an important win."
It all started in early 2009. Sanjeevani Kulkarni, founderpresident of NGO Prayas, that works for the uplift and fair treatment of the HIV–affected, narrated the woman’s story. "Her husband was first detected with HIV in early 2009 at the village primary healthcare centre.
She too underwent the test. Both the woman and her daughter tested positive, though her older son did not," she said. " When the villagers came to know their status, they were not uncooperative. They helped the family in many ways."
Eventually, the woman’s husband passed away in late 2009. Though she continued to be in good health several eyebrows were raised at the fact that she was an anganwadi sevika. "Parents were worried that her proximity to their children would prove detrimental to their health and well–being and that her little daughter would pass on the infection to other children in the village school.
Now these worries are neither scientific nor logical. Nevertheless, she was asked to stay home with the promise that her salary would be sent to her. Her daughter was denied admission to the school. When this state of existence was unacceptable to her, the woman left the village with her children," Kulkarni said.
She went to Mumbai this June and got in touch with the media, as well as various NGOs that work for the HIV positive. Her voice was heard and gradually the wheels of hope began spinning once again, especially when tehsildar Vijaya Jadhav got to know of the situation.
A meeting with the gram sabha of Longe village was initiated. Officials from the district HIV programme, various NGOs like the Network of Positive People, Lotus Medical Foundation, Red Cross Society, Sakhi Sanghatan and Jeevan Jyot, as well as members of the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society were present.
At the meeting, Sanjeevani Kulkarni and Pravin Naik, district HIV programme officer, Kolhapur, put to rest every niggling suspicion and query in the villagers’ mind. "The meeting lasted for over two hours, and we were successful in convincing the villagers that the woman and her child were far from being a threat," said Kulkarni. "The villagers promised to look after her and her daughter in every way."
Drupada Kumhare, sarpanch of Longe, said, "We are convinced that there is no way that one can get infected with HIV just by coexisting with a positive person." Deputy sarpanch Subhash Patil said, "We were afraid that our children could get infected if her daughter would play with them. But now we know that there is no such chance."
A village–level committee comprising the sarpanch, deputy sarpanch as well as members of the village conflict redressal committee will support the woman. "She is in good health. And so far, there has been no need for anti–retroviral therapy for her," added Kulkarni.
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