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Need Tailormade Aids Counsellors

Times of India
23 August 2010
By R Vasundara
Chennai, India

TN Short Of Professionals Equipped To Handle Issues And Emotions Of Adolescent HIV Patients
Their future had appeared bleak. With no medical treatment or hope of life, HIV positive children had little to look forward to. But more than two decades after the deadly disease was detected in Chennai, several babies now have a chance of survival into adulthood thanks to medical regimen and better nutrition.

When the Indian government began the national Anti–Retroviral Therapy (ART) for HIV patients in 2004, the programme was a godsend for many infected patients who had even given up on the idea of survival. "Before the ART programme began, morbidity and mortality rate for HIV positive patients were high," says Dr P Manorama, chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), who runs a home for HIV positive children in Chennai. Today, mortality levels have significantly reduced from 13% in 2005 to 8% in 2010, according to the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS).

But all the medical and financial aid given by the government is not enough to offset the need for emotional support for the patients, especially children infected with HIV. According to statistics furnished by TANSACS, there are 11,197 children living with HIV in the state today and a sizeable number among them are adolescents.

Need Tailormade Aids Counsellors
Daisy David of World Vision, an NGO working with HIV positive teenagers, says there is a large segment of children born with the disease, who have today reached adolescence. "Children living with HIV have the same exposure to society and media as other children," she points out.

"They too grow up with ambitions and desires. However, the discussions provided by the government are inadequate. They not only need counselling on career ambitions and how to battle life on the professional front, but also on the changes their bodies undergo and their own desires regarding sex, marriage and companionship."

Counselling HIV teenagers about marriage and companionship is rather difficult. "There is need for counsellors who are equipped to handle all kinds of issues and emotions," says Dr Lakshmibai, project director for Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (TAI).

"Many of them would like to marry non–infected persons, so there is always the issue of acceptance and rejection," says Daisy, who had recently attended a workshop for HIVinfected adolescents in Manipur. "At Manipur, I met a teenaged boy who was battling rejection after his girlfriend found out he was HIV positive. They all had questions as to whether they could have sexual intercourse with non–infected persons, whether the babies born out of such a bonding would also be infected. The very fact that they needed to ask these questions shows that they are not receiving this kind of information or counselling."

The other issue that social workers stress on is a tailor–made counselling programme for drug adherence. According to statistics furnished by the TNSAC, until June 2010, 3,298 persons had not returned to their respective ART centres for their regular treatment for a period of one to three months. And 1,192 persons had not returned to the ART centres for treatment in a period of one to three months.

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