10 December 2010
By Somdatta Basu & Prithvijit Mitra
More than 3,000 HIVinfected children – including scores in Kolkata – could be going untreated and uncared for in West Bengal, risking transmission of the deadly virus, with the state health authorities not even being aware of their existence.
Around 150 of Kolkata’s 11,000 streetchildren are infected with AIDS but have never been treated or screened, showed a recent study conducted by the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. Aged less than 14, the majority of them – who have acquired the disease from their mothers – could die before they turn 18 or even earlier.
The alarming facts have been disclosed following the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society’s (WBSAPCS) response to an RTI application. The body has put the number of HIV+ children in the state at 684, including just 50 in Kolkata.
Prantakatha, the NGO which filed the RTI application, has pointed out that more than 200 infected children have been traced in Kolkata alone. While the WBSAPCS claimed that their data has been compiled through various local networks and social organizations working at the grassroots with HIV+ people, Prantakatha alleged that the figure had been cooked up.
After staying mum for months, they sent us a break–up of the number of patients across the districts on December 3. It said 684 was the total number. Kolkata, if they are to be believed, has just 50 HIV–infected children," said Bappaditya Mukherjee, secretary of Prantakatha.
The WBSAPCS, however, claimed the data was authentic. "We have collected the figures after a thorough interaction with local networks and scanning their information base. A large percentage of the HIV–infected children in Kolkata actually hail from the districts and they have been included in our list. But it’s true that there’s no government home for HIV children," said Swarnadipa Biswas, deputy director of WBSAPCS.
Ananda Ghar, the only home for HIV+ children in the state has 42 inmates. Privately run by an NGO at Gobindopur in South 24–Parganas, it claimed that hundreds of infected youngsters from Kolkata and its outskirts were eager to join the home.
"At least, 150 children are waiting and we have regular contacts with them. Most are either orphans or social outcasts. This proves that the WBSAPCS data is fabricated.
They have neither done a survey nor have any programme to care for these children," said Kallol Ghosh of OFFER, the NGO which runs the home. What could be even more dangerous is the threat they pose in terms of transmission, many pointed out.
"Few of the kids are aware of their status and have no access to Anti–Retroviral Therapy (ART). Since a high percentage of them are drug–users, they could well be transmitting the disease," said Tarit Chakraborty, secretary of BNP Plus – a network of HIV–positive people.
Less than 25% of the children now receive ART, said an official at the ART centre in Calcutta Medical College Hospital. "There has never been any study or survey. But information from private bodies working across the state, shows the total number of infected children could be more than 3000," said the official.